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By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian
BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
If this were family court, city and county animal control would be divorcing but promising to live next to each other for the children.
Under a plan proposed to the Metropolitan Bakersfield Animal Control Committee Wednesday, the county of Kern and city of Bakersfield would separate their sheltering operations but set up shop close together for the public's benefit.
The committee met for the first time in three months, after its last meeting devolved into a heated debate over how much money the city should give the county for sheltering stray cats and dogs.
There was no squabbling Wednesday over what expenses should or should not be calculated into shelter costs.
Instead, Kern County Animal Control Director Jen Woodard and Bakersfield's Assistant to the City Manager Steve Teglia teamed up to present a plan that would end in an orderly split in the two agencies' operations over the next two years.
Their plan calls for both agencies to shelter animals from their jurisdictions at separate animal control shelters, but run a joint intake center.
City staff would use the current Kern County Animal Control shelter on South Mount Vernon Avenue. Kern County would build its own, new shelter right next door.
"We agreed that this makes the most sense for people in the community," Woodard said. "We see this as the best option going forward for the county. And the city."
"This avoids the situation in which the city and county are in yearly conflict over budget," Teglia said.
The close proximity of the two shelters would allow the city and county, they said, to present a seemless front to the public.
Members of the public with animal control business would come to the same location and deal with the same people no matter whether they live -- in city limits or in the unincorporated county areas of metropolitan Bakersfield.
George Miers, a well-known animal control facility architect, outlined how the two facilities could be integrated into a single "campus" -- a task he's done for a number of other communities.
He said there are a lot of decisions the city and county need to make before the plans move forward -- from how big it should be to what programs would be offered from each facility.
Some parts of the facility could be shared by the city and county. Others would need to be duplicated on both sides of the facility.
And, ultimately, the city and county will need to figure out how to handle the large numbers of animals that are currently brought into the Kern County Animal Control shelter. Building new kennels won't solve an overpopulation problem, Miers said.
"The building is not a panacea for the problems," he said. "You guys are the panacea."
To give the city and county time to answer those questions, plan and construct a new facility, Teglia said, the city and county would continue to operate under a modified version of the current agreement. The county would continue to shelter animals from the county jurisdiction and the city would pay for the service.
Supervisors Mike Maggard and Zack Scrivner, and Bakersfield Councilman Ken Weir, cheered the idea.
"The tenor and tone of this meeting is different," Weir noted.
"We were getting bogged down in how many fiscal analysts the county had dedicated to animal control," Scrivner said. "This allows us to move beyond those issues."
But committee chair Michael Yraceburn questioned the wisdom of investing millions of taxpayer dollars into a new facility simply because the city and county have trouble getting along.
Specific price tags for the new arrangement weren't discussed.
"We're relying on a facility to solve our cooperation problems," he said. "While I understand and admire George's work, design doesn't make something function."
But Bakersfield City Manager Alan Tandy said the two governments could work well moving forward.
And Weir said he has hope.
"These meetings were not something I looked forward to," he said. "Time heals a lot of things. I think this path we are going down will help us better work together."
The group agreed to meet in two or three months to review staff progress in developing the plan.