In light of news that Atascadero and Paso Robles are considering dropping out of San Luis Oibispo County’s $14.4 million animal shelter project, Arroyo Grande City Council members were forced to decide Tuesday night whether to stick with the project even if its portion of the bill goes up — or weigh opting out, as well.
They ended up choosing a combination of the two.
The council voted to send a letter to the Atascadero and Paso Robles city councils asking them not to drop out of the agreement. In the meantime, it approved sending a notice of conditional withdrawal to the county, saying that if the bill for Arroyo Grande’s participation in the project grew to 15 percent or more, the city would also opt out.
“I think this is a creative approach to be able to protect us and make sure that we don’t get forced into something that we can’t make a decision on, based on whatever is happening over the Grade,” Councilwoman Caren Ray said.
The existing project would replace the county’s aging animal shelter on Oklahoma Avenue off Highway 1 with a new facility. After roughly two years of planning and negotiations, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors approved an agreement with all seven county cities for expected project costs in February.
Since then, Atascadero and Paso Robles councils have both begun questioning their involvement, saying they would rather have a regional animal shelter that could cater to specific North County needs, especially if it could be done for less than the county’s proposed project.
They are expected to make a decision on whether they will drop out of the agreement at a special meeting Oct. 30.
It’s just an untenable situation, and I’m a little upset at having to make a decision on this kind of information.
Tim Brown, Arroyo Grande City Council
On Tuesday, Arroyo Grande staff noted that the timeline of Paso Robles’ and Atascadero’s deliberations puts other cities in a tough spot with having to suddenly decide on the viability of the project if two of its top participants drop out right before the Oct. 31 deadline to withdraw.
“It’s just an untenable situation, and I’m a little upset at having to make a decision on this kind of information,” Councilman Tim Brown. “It’s just insane.”
According to a staff report, if both Atascadero and Paso Robles drop from the agreement, Arroyo Grande would be responsible for approximately 12.6 percent of the shelter bill. Even taking into account a smaller project if both cities withdraw, that means the cost to Arroyo Grande over the next 25 years would increase from $1.2 million to around $1.8 million, according to the report.
Though that extra spending concerned the council, the possibility of additional cities withdrawing — San Luis Obispo has been pondering its own participation — and those costs skyrocketing even more was a pressing concern.
“Talking with the other city managers in the county, they all saw that if more cities don’t withdraw, it’s probably OK for them. But if it goes beyond Paso or Atascadero, it becomes much more uncertain,” City Manager Jim Bergman said.
Under the original agreement, if San Luis Obispo, Atascadero and Paso Robles all withdraw, Arroyo Grande would have the largest portion of the bill of any of the participating cities with 15.3 percent or about $2.2 million.
That won’t occur now that the city has set up its 15 percent trigger.
If Arroyo Grande chooses to drop out of the project, the options for how it could continue to provide animal services are limited.
The city could choose to build its own shelter, though in the past, staff has cautioned that would be an expensive and difficult option. The city could also partner with another animal services group in the area or attempt to handle animal-related calls through the public works and police departments.