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Monday, Dec 02 2013 05:35 PM

County, city shelter renovation projects over-budget

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    In this September 2013 photo, Bakersfield City Councilman Harold Hansen takes a tour of what was then the Kern County Animal Control shelter on Mount Vernon Avenue. Not long after, the city took over control of it for its own shelter, now the City of Bakersfield Animal Care Center.

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BY JAMES BURGER AND THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writers jburger@bakersfield.com, tdouglas@bakersfield.com

The price tag of the breakup of Bakersfield and Kern County's animal shelter operations is rising beyond what both planned to pay.

The county of Kern's cost to convert an industrial property on Fruitvale Avenue into a new animal shelter has exceeded the county's projected $2.5 million cost, according to a report the Board of Supervisors will review Tuesday.

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Supervisor David Couch has been pushing, since July, for the county's government pension system to invest in local businesses.

He hasn't seen much success.

On Tuesday he will take his quest to his peers on the Kern County Board of Supervisors.

The board could vote to politely ask the Kern County Employees' Retirement Association board to consider investing some of the billions of dollars in retirement funds it manages into oil, agriculture and land development deals.

But, if the past is any indication, the KCERA board is likely to politely refuse the request.

Couch pitched the idea to the KCERA board -- on which he holds a seat -- and was rejected in mid-September.

Staff for KCERA said there simply weren't enough good investments here and that the board's first duty was to ensure the best return on investments for fund beneficiaries -- the past and present employees of the county of Kern and a number of other special public districts across the county.

Members of the KCERA board voted not to pursue the idea.

Couch believes that KCERA beneficiaries can be protected and the local economy enriched at the same time.

"If the board doesn't want to go forward with it, I will proceed with it myself and I will bring it back to the board and put it on the agenda," Couch said at the time. "I'm not going to give up on it no matter what people around me think."

Approval of the proposed request to KCERA by the Board of Supervisors would carry no weight. KCERA's board is independent, said County Administrative Officer John Nilon.

The focus of Tuesday's vote would be, Nilon said, to encourage the KCERA board to actively look for investment opportunities in Kern County.

So far it's only $2,000 over the spending plan. But there is still a lot of spending to do.

Kennels remain unfinished, a septic system big enough to handle all of the animal waste must still be completed, a corral for livestock must be installed and the medical building -- which will include a surgery and exam rooms -- must be finished.

And there is a large amount of paving and site grading on the agenda.

The county isn't sure how much all that will cost, according to the report from the Kern County General Services Division.

The city of Bakersfield, which is renovating the old Kern County shelter on South Mount Vernon Avenue for its use, is also looking at higher-than-expected costs.

Four of the five kennels at the City of Bakersfield Animal Care Center have been comprehensively remodeled -- sandblasted and resealed to repair wear and remove any disease.

A new parking lot is under construction, according to Steve Teglia, an assistant to City Manager Alan Tandy. And foundations are being poured Tuesday for a new, nearly 2,500-square-foot, prefabricated office building that will house a lobby and animal surrender and adoption areas, said Assistant Public Works Director Nick Fidler.

All that work hasn't come cheaply.

City officials set aside $500,000 for renovations in the fiscal year 2013-2014 budget, plus an additional $99,000 in funds carried over from the previous year's budget.

By Oct. 19 the city had already spent $512,630 -- not including the cost of staff hours.

And the facility's fifth kennel, an isolation facility, is still being updated.

That cost could raise the project's total by anywhere from $40,000 to $110,000, Fidler said Monday.

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