Local News

Friday, Oct 18 2013 04:39 PM

Shelter costs rise, but neither city nor county is howling yet

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Held by animal care worker Mandi Weatherly, this male dog, #957337, waits to be put in a kennel at the new shelter for Kern County Animal Control at 3951 Fruitvale Ave. This photo was taken Sept. 29.

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

Taxpayers face millions of dollars of unplanned costs from the last-minute animal shelter split between the city of Bakersfield and county of Kern.

Kern County has run up a $1.9 million bill -- so far -- on the conversion of leased property on Fruitvale Avenue into a new animal shelter.

And, with piles of work left undone, that price tag is expected to get bigger.

Across town, the city of Bakersfield shelter has only two kennel buildings finished, two buildings under construction and a fifth kennel as yet untouched.

City officials set aside $500,000 for renovations.

So far they have spent $512,630 -- not including the cost of city staff time -- and will divert cash from other priorities to cover additional costs.

COUNTY CASH

Earlier this year, when the county of Kern still planned to build a joint animal shelter with the city of Bakersfield, it set aside $2.5 million as seed money for the project.

Now that money is being spent to improve a leased structure.

So far the county has spent $514,000 for movable kennels, equipment rentals, advertisements, transportation of the animals to the new shelter, purchase and installation of freezers and staff time.

And the county has another $1.4 million in outstanding invoices for everything from fencing, new air conditioning and heating equipment and office space improvements to a significant upgrade to the septic system on site.

What the county doesn't yet know is how much it will take to complete the septic system, connect utilities, treat the floor in kennel areas and develop the medical suite.

"I think we'll stay under the $2.5 million," said Assistant County Administrative Officer Jeff Frapwell. "I think we've uncovered all the surprises."

Kern found, leased and moved into the new shelter facility in just more than a month and the tight timeline forced the county to do several things it wouldn't have done otherwise, Frapwell said.

One of those was pouring millions of dollars into a property that the county does not own.

"In a perfect situation, you would purchase a property before you made the investment," Frapwell said.

County officials also paid a premium to run multiple shifts of workers seven days a week so basic operational needs were buttoned down before the Oct. 1 opening day.

Frapwell acknowledges that the dollar price for the renovation is high.

But he argues that the animals the county cares for are better off -- living in a facility where sick animals can be kept away from healthy ones and disease can be reduced.

CITY WORK

Three weeks after the City of Bakersfield Animal Care Center opened its doors on Mount Vernon Avenue, its renovation costs already have exceeded the $500,000 budgeted for them in the 2013-2014 fiscal year budget's capital outlay fund.

City officials have purchased or contracted to buy goods and services for their new animal shelter totaling $512,630, Assistant Public Works Director Nick Fidler said Friday.

These include: the purchase of a prefabricated administration building, at $319,000; resurfacing the shelter's five kennels, at $143,713; removing the old freezer, and buying and installing a new freezer, at $26,512; a new telephone system, at $11,870; and a new, commercial-grade washer and dryer, at $11,535 -- replacing an old dryer the county hadn't been using because mice lived in it.

These goods and services don't put the project over budget, Fidler said, because officials saved approximately $102,000 on other city projects, and on shelter renovations budgeted during fiscal year 2012-2013 but not completed -- when the county still ran the shelter for the city -- and added this money to the half a million dollars already set aside.

Combined, these funds totaled approximately $602,000, meaning the city still has about $89,370 left that it could spend on renovations.

But that's not the shelter's entire renovation cost.

The city is spending additional money on the shelter by assigning city employees in various pay classifications to perform work on it, including sanitizing, remodeling various rooms, building a new driveway, and grading a new parking lot.

However, Fidler said the city won't have a complete estimate of these costs until the project is finished, which is estimated to happen by early 2014.

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