By Neil Farrell
When it comes to treating stray animals and the volunteers that care for them right, all of SLO County is onboard with it.
County Supervisors recently approved going out for bid on a new $12 million to $14 million County animal shelter that will be built next to the existing shelter on Oklahoma Avenue. Morro Bay City Council recently approved joining all six other SLO County cities and the County’s unincorporated towns to pay for the new facility.
Not that there was much of an option, given that the County operates the only public shelter in the county, though there are private shelters like Woods Humane Society (dogs and cats), North County Humane Society of Atascadero (cats only), and HART in Cambria (cats only).
Under State law, Cities have the option of building their own animal shelters or contracting with a county facility for both housing of strays and dealing with animal-related calls for service, from dog bites to wild animals roaming the streets and giving the public a fright.
Signing on to help pay the costs is not cheap. A City staff report estimates Morro Bay’s share of the debt service will run from $17,000-$40,000 a year for the next 25 years. That’s on top of the normal $45,400 a year contract cost for services, which is anticipated to rise to $50,000 with the next fiscal year that starts July 1.
The County’s estimate for the project is $13.174 million plus interest, estimated at from 3.5%-5%, which is a big swing in terms of the payoff. At the low end it could be $7.7 million in total interest or as much at $11.6M. At the high end, the annual debt service will total some $1.04M annually (over 25 years) and $820,000 on the low end.
The costs estimates are so wide because the pro-rata shares are based on average shelter usage over 3 years, for each individual city, for example currently Morro Bay uses 3.23% of the shelter services, according to a staff report by Police Cmdr. Jody Cox. At the high end of the construction estimates, Morro Bay would pay approximately $1.75 million of the debt spread over 25 years.
The proposed new facility will be some 16,000 square feet of building floor area; 3,000 s.f. of outdoor dog runs; 2,000 s.f. for an indoor incinerator to dispose of the carcasses; 27,000 s.f. of “large animal” pens (for horses or other large critters they take in); and 7,300 s.f. parking for the staff and 5,300 s.f. for the public among other uses, to fit on a 78,840 s.f. parcel that is currently vacant land owned by SLO County. It’s also the site of a long-closed and abandoned garbage dump for Camp San Luis.
SLO County Animal Shelter handles some 4,826 animals annually, with a contingent of volunteers on hand to socialize, care for and help adopt them out. It’s annual budget is currently some $2.6 million — $539 per animal, according to a needs study by the County.
As for the obvious question — Where are all these animals coming from? — Paso Robles leads the pack with 18.81% of the animals; Atascadero is second at 14.37%; SLO third at 12.09%; and Arroyo Grande is fourth at 8.39%.
The County first started to look at the aging animal shelter, which was built around 1975 and now has a leaky roof and other malaises, years ago.
Assistant County Administrative Officer, Guy Savage, said in a County press release, “Unfortunately, the costs to fix the existing facility are so great that it makes more sense to replace the building. Now that we all agree on estimated costs and have selected a firm to manage this project, we can build a new facility that will better benefit the animals in our care and encourage more people to visit and adopt animals or reclaim their lost pets.”
Back in February Supervisors also approved awarding a $1.2M contract to local project and construction management firm, Kitchell, for construction management and master architecture services for a “design-build” project, meaning the same company will do the design and build it too.
“The contract also includes the specialty design services of Swatt Miers of San Francisco, an architectural firm specializing in animal shelters, and Rick Engineering of San Luis Obispo, to provide the civil engineering services,” reads a County staff report.