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Monday, Mar 25 2013 11:00 PM

JENIFER PITCHER: Duplication of services does county taxpayers no favors

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    Jenifer Pitcher

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The city of Bakersfield and the county of Kern work together on various issues. The county works with several other cities and towns within the boundary of Kern -- Shafter, Wasco, Delano, Ridgecrest, Tehachapi and others. But Bakersfield is the largest metropolitan area in Kern. This makes the relationship between the city of Bakersfield and Kern County vital. It is like a marriage -- the same one is not always right, and they sometimes don't see eye to eye, but compromise and communication are the keys to their success.

This marriage has hit a rough patch. Bakersfield and Kern County have a dispute over certain aspects of property tax allocation, as well as fire fund allocation. It's not too difficult to assume why: Both have been hit hard by the economy and both want as much money as they can to pay for the services they both provide. This has thrown the once-harmonious relationship on the rocks.

The property tax allocation and subsequent threat of litigation is influencing almost all of the agreements and joint powers between the city and the county. Because of this, discussions such as those on animal control have suffered.

The proposed plan for animal control may make sense for the government on paper, but it does not make sense to me. The plan is to have one receiving facility at the current animal control location. Behind that facility will be two identical buildings: one new one that will be operated by the county, and the old one, which will be operated by the city. Both will be completely staffed either by public employees or contracted employees. When an animal is brought in, employees at the receiving facility will either bring it to the county building or the city building. Common sense tells you that this cannot be the best solution for animal control.

In essence, under the proposed plan, the taxpayers of the city, who are also taxpayers of the county, will essentially be paying for two animal control facilities. We will not see this as an increase in taxes, but rather a decrease in other services. Wouldn't the money be better spent on other services, such as road improvements? Or as a contribution to the growing cost of health care? Or more low-cost spay/neuter programs? Or better yet, paying off unfunded pension liabilities? With all of the services and programs that need funding in the county and the city, duplicating services does not help either entity in the larger picture.

It is essential that both work together to create a plan that makes the most sense for the communities they both serve. Even if we weren't in difficult economic time and even if we had an abundance of cash flow, establishing duplicate services right next to each other does not seem like the most efficient use of taxpayer resources. The best plan would entail one facility (and it doesn't necessarily have to be the current facility) and an agreement where both the city and the county contribute to the operations of that facility at a fair and equitable amount.

Kern Citizens for Sustainable Government has talked to all parties involved in this matter. We have urged everyone to find a way to help solve the problem and at the same time remain responsible stewards of taxpayer resources. We feel that both sides can work a little harder to find a mutually beneficial plan for animal control. When two entities offer similar services to a similar population, it is common sense that those services can be combined and overhead eliminated. Any time there is consolidation and cooperation, the taxpayer wins.

There is no easy fix here, just as there is no easy fix to many of the issues local municipalities face. But creating a system where two entities provide the exact same operations and functions is not efficient. Is this really the best we can come up with? We're happy that both sides are working together, but the final result is not reflective of that. We urge both sides to come back to the drawing table and find a better solution that does not involve duplicating services.

Jenifer Pitcher of Bakersfield is the community and 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.

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