Kern Citizens for Sustainable Government has been advocating for the city of Bakersfield and the county of Kern to work together to find a solution to the animal control situation. The two were working to address this issue, but then negotiations seemed to unravel.
For the last several years, the city was leasing the building off Mount Vernon Avenue to the county, rent-free. In return, the county was providing animal control services for the shelter, while the city paid the county at a reduced rate because of the building lease. Last year, the Board of Supervisors looked at alternatives independent of the city. Should the cooperative arrangement end, however, the city would be forced to run its own animal shelter. Separate operations would add to the combined costs.
After pressure from outside organizations and the media, the city and the county agreed to form a joint committee tasked to find a solution. That committee met a few times, but as the tax dispute heated up, those meetings died down.
The two are now finishing out their contract and it looks as though they will be going their separate ways. The plan is to have one receiving facility at the current shelter, and behind the receiving facility will be two shelters, right next to each other. The county will run one; the city will run the other.
Put lipstick on a pig and it's still a pig. This is not government working as a good steward of taxpayer resources. Although both sides tout the joint efforts, which are great, there has to be a solution that is truly a joint effort in all aspects. Duplicating services does not favor the taxpayer. The money will have to come out of other department budgets, which will result in the loss of service somewhere. So, if both entities operate their own shelter, what will they cut?
The Metro Bakersfield Animal Control Commission was trying to find a way to work together and not duplicate services, but it has not met since March. No one is completely sure what is going on, not even elected officials. So as discussions seem to be headed south, with no real clarity and absolutely no transparency, we are headed to the end of a contract and precious time is being wasted.
These two entities should try to have a fruitful discussion at a public MBACC meeting and stop this back and forth behind closed doors.
The best solution would be for the two to contract out services and split the cost. Both have invested money into the current shelter for improvements. With the amount of animals that are taken in by animal control, a new building may also be required. After both agree on the facility standard, they should contract with organizations such as the SPCA or some rescue organization that already has the infrastructure needed to carry out services. Kern County is lucky to have so many active and caring citizens; between all of the rescues in the area and all of the wonderful volunteers that are active with animal rescues, we can find a solution. The city already has had proven success with the Bakersfield Homeless Center on other contracts. Why not extend jobs to those in need? If we find an organization with the knowledge and infrastructure to run the facility, and an organization with a trainable work force, why can't we contract out the services? The contracted organization can then charge the county and the city for its services, which can be reviewed by an independent auditor to verify that the amounts charged are correct.
If the bureaucrats do not put differences aside and find a way to truly work together, they should be held accountable to their respective boards. It is ultimately the responsibility of the elected officials to make sure department heads are working together.
Just as appointed officials are held accountable to elected officials, politicians are held accountable by the people. And the people demand good government. This is not good government.
Jenifer Pitcher is the Community & Government Liaison for Kern Citizens for Sustainable Government. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.