Atascadero and Paso Robles will opt out of a countywide agreement to build a new $14.4 million animal shelter in San Luis Obispo — and will join to build one in the North County instead.
The two cities held special council meetings on Monday to decide whether to remain part of the agreement, which also includes the other five San Luis Obispo County cities.
Paso Robles and Atascadero in February signed on to help split the cost of the new shelter, which would be built near the current facility on Kansas Avenue off Highway 1.
Cities’ cost shares were determined by past usage — Paso Robles animals accounted for about 19 percent of shelter occupants and Atascadero animals accounted for 14 percent. Together, the two cities would have paid about 33 percent of the costs, or nearly $4.5 million.
Leaders held the last-minute meetings because Monday was the final day cities could opt out of the agreement without being on the hook for additional costs.
Last week, city councils in San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande and Morro Bay sent letters urging the two North County cities not to drop out out of the shelter agreement, citing the last-minute nature of the decision and asking the cities to work with the county on any concerns with the project.
Both San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande indicated they would stay in the agreement, however, as long as more participating cities did not withdraw.
Under the seven-city agreement, San Luis Obispo accounted for 12 percent of shelter occupants, Arroyo Grande 8 percent and Morro Bay 3 percent. With the loss of Paso and Atascadero, those percentages will have to be recalculated. The remaining cities now expect their costs to increase, but it’s unclear by how much.
It’s time for us — our city and Paso — to stand up to the county.
Atascadero Councilman Charles Bourbeau
Earlier in the month, Paso Robles and Atascadero paid $40,000 to Ravatt Albrecht & Associates and the Petaluma Animal Services Foundation to analyze the cost-effectiveness of building a North County Animal Shelter. Based on their analysis, a new shelter will cost from $4.5 million to $5.2 million to build.
The new facility will be located in Paso Robles, either on city-owned land on Sulphur Springs Road, or on donated land on Wisteria Lane.
Petaluma Animal Services — a nonprofit with contracts in four cities in the Sonoma County area — will provide services at a rate of $502,000 per year. Atascadero and Paso Robles, which would have paid the county $555,441 per year for its services, will save about 10 percent on their annual costs.
Jeff Charter, Petaluma’s executive director, said the organization has a live release rate of about 97 percent. They would also provide additional outreach services, such as on-site spay and neuter clinics and community education programs to prevent more animals from ending up at the shelter.
The cities will split the cost based on usage — Paso Robles will pay for about 57 percent, and Atascadero will pay for about 43 percent.
Atascadero City Council members voted 3-2 to withdraw from the agreement, with Mayor Tom O’Malley and Councilwoman Heather Moreno casting the two “no” votes.
Council members expressed a desire for local control over animal services and said they’re frustrated that the county’s price tag has continued to go up over the years.
“It’s time for us — our city and Paso — to stand up to the county,” Councilman Charles Bourbeau said.
But council members were also concerned about the additional time staff would need to spend on the new shelter.
“I don’t think we have the information to make the best decision possible today,” Moreno said.
The Paso Robles City Council met immediately after the meeting in Atascadero. Council members there voted unanimously in favor of withdrawing from the agreement, also expressing a desire for increased local control over their animal services.
Mayor Steve Martin said he wished the county Board of Supervisors had given the cities more time to consider their options, which he asked for at a meeting in September.
“This whole thing started as a cost issue for the city of Paso Robles,” he said. “Basically, isn’t there a better way to do it for the city?”