Grand Jury finds budget shortfalls in county facilities

Staff shortages and noncompetitive wages have hindered employees’ abilities to adequately maintain county facilities both old and new, according to the 2017-18 Grand Jury Report. The report highlights an overall lack of funding for Calaveras County Animal Control Services (ACS) and the Calaveras County Jail that is projected to persist despite upcoming wage increases.

“Budgetary constraints contribute to the lack of operational efficiency of the Calaveras County Animal Control Services,” reads the report, which was released on July 1.

One of the most pressing issues the agency faces is nothing new: a 60-year-old facility that is “aging and obsolete” and “was never designed to be an animal shelter,” according to the report. During the course of its research, the Grand Jury found that a new facility has been recommended to the Board of Supervisors “for nearly 20 years.”

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Grand Jury finds budget shortfalls in county facilities

The Calaveras County Animal Control Services dog shelter was built in the 1950s and is “aging and obsolete,” according to the 2017-18 Grand Jury Report.

In 2016, there was a preliminary memorandum of understanding (MOU) to build a jointly operated shelter between ACS and the Calaveras Humane Society on 6.93 acres just below the county jail. The plan, which had been in the works for 15 years, fell through when the humane society pulled out of negotiations to pursue plans for its own shelter.

“The second MOU had a lot of gaps that needed to be filled in,” said Calaveras County Environmental Management Administrator Brad Banner, who oversees ACS, on Monday. According to Banner, there were many questions, such as which agency would be responsible for euthanasia, that were not settled within the required timeframe.

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Grand Jury finds budget shortfalls in county facilities

“There was a slower-than-expected process on the ACS discussions, which is the reason for the deal falling through,” the report states. “This should have never happened. The partnership with MOU should have moved forward in a timely manner. A partnership with the humane society would have streamlined services and expenses for a new facility.”

“We’re working on some management issues that are kind of critical and putting these ahead of looking for expansion in the budget,” said Banner, though he hopes to move forward with a planning process for a new shelter “this coming year” to present to the Board of Supervisors.

“We may do an exploration to get a possible measure on the ballot,” said Banner, though he is unsure of when that election could take place.

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Grand Jury finds budget shortfalls in county facilities

A mother cat nurses her newborn kittens inside the Calaveras County Animal Control Services cat shelter.

Despite the inadequate size of the current shelter and the lack of exterior fencing that creates an “unsafe condition for staff, animals and the public,” the Grand Jury found that operations were performed by staff and volunteers at a “high standard under substandard conditions.”

However, another prominent issue listed in the report is a shortage of staff at the shelter, leading to a lack of efficiency and “reduced morale.”

The Grand Jury found that, due to insufficient staffing, the focus of the agency has been primarily on the daily upkeep of the animals, as opposed to the enforcement of animal laws. The report cited a mere 22 percent level of compliance in the county for domestic pet licensing as one of the shortfalls created by lack of staff.

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Grand Jury finds budget shortfalls in county facilities

The Animal Services staff is also underpaid, according to the report.

“A study conducted by the Calaveras County Human Resources Department showed Calaveras Animal Shelter employees received 15 percent less pay than adjoining counties,” the report reads.

Based on that study, the Board of Supervisors moved in January to approve an “equity adjustment” of 5 percent for Animal Control officers that took effect in March, and another 5 percent increase to take effect in September, in addition to the negotiated cost of living adjustment.

However, there will be a remaining 5 percent pay deficiency compared to neighboring county workers after those pay increases are implemented, according to the report. The Grand Jury found one of the consequences of noncompetitive salaries to be unfilled positions within ACS, such as a backup supervisor for the Animal Services manager, “who left to accept higher pay in an adjoining county.”

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Grand Jury finds budget shortfalls in county facilities

The interior of the Calaveras County Animal Control Services dog shelter has needed replacement for 20 years, according to the Grand Jury.

During the 2018-19 preliminary county budget deliberations in June, the Board of Supervisors approved a capital expenditure of $40,000 for a new specialized vehicle for Animal Services, though the Grand Jury found that at least two additional vehicle purchases would need to be made in order to bring ACS up to speed in its operations.

One ACS office technician position was cut this fiscal year due to “budgetary concerns,” according to Banner, and there have been similar cuts made to the agency during budget deliberations in recent years.

“The board is really supportive. They just do what they can do within resources that they have,” said Banner.

Regardless of the struggles the agency faces, Banner maintains that there is still much to be proud of within the county’s Animal Control Services. As confirmed in the Grand Jury Report, ACS maintains a 90 percent “no-kill rate” for dogs within the county.

“With an under 10 percent euthanasia rate, we could be considered a ‘no-kill shelter,’” said Banner, who credits the hard-working staff at ACS and a “good partnership” with the humane society.

Banner is currently drafting a response to the Grand Jury’s findings, which, by law, must be submitted to the presiding judge within 60 days of the report’s release. The Grand Jury has also requested responses from ACS, the Calaveras County Human Resource Department and the county Board of Supervisors.

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Grand Jury finds budget shortfalls in county facilities

In another investigation detailed by the Grand Jury, it was found that the county jail, though “state-of-the-art” and “immaculately maintained,” has a lack of staffing and wages that are not industry competitive, contributing to a high turnover rate and inexperienced employees.

“Correctional staff to inmate ratio is 1:45,” states the report. “Calaveras County serves as a training ground for better-paying agencies. If this cycle continues, it will cost the Calaveras County Jail department more in unnecessary expenses over the years.”

According to the report, the 2017/18 fiscal year budget listed overtime expenses at $265,000. The report recommends that this money and additional county monies should be allotted to hiring more personnel.

“Deputies, corporals and sergeants received a 7.5 percent salary increase in March and will receive another 7.5 percent in September. In addition, other workers from the (Calaveras County) Deputy Sheriff’s Association will receive a 2.5 percent increase,” the report reads. The Board of Supervisors also approved a contribution of $200,000 for the purchase of a BearCat armored vehicle for the Sheriff’s Office.

However, the report recommends that a competitive wage study should be approved by the Board of Supervisors and that additional salary increases should be implemented for correctional staff.

The Grand Jury has requested responses to the report’s findings from the Calaveras County Correctional Department, the Human Resource Department and the Board of Supervisors.

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