Are taxpayers stuck with $4 million bill? It’s Fresno’s ‘worst’ deal, city leaders say

The Fresno City Council approved a one-year contract with the Central California SPCA for more than $4 million — but city officials made it clear they’d happily choose another animal control vendor if one was available.

“The SPCA is probably the most dismissive, poorly-run organization that I think we’ve had to deal with,” District 3 Councilmember Miguel Arias said after the vote. “Clearly, they’re not interested in making improvements or meeting with the city related to our concerns.

“I think it’s fair to say they’re on notice,” he said. “They need to fix things, especially since they’re pretty free to ask for more money for the same service they’ve been providing for years that hasn’t been up to par.”

The vote came Thursday and extended by one year a 2014 contract for animal control, poundmaster, veterinary and animal sheltering services. The current contract ends June 30.

Since 2014, the contract cost has increased about $1 million for cost-of-living adjustments and minimum-wage increases. The extension cost is up by almost $250,000, bringing the total cost to $4.2 million.

SPCA officials were unavailable for questions but issued a brief statement saying they were “pleased” with the additional money.

The contract covers 13 animal control officers plus a supervisor, seven customer service agents at the shelter, one intake coordinator, a veterinarian, animal care assistants and more.

Nelson Esparza was the only councilmember to vote no. In an interview with The Bee on Friday, he said constituents are unhappy with the services for good reason.

“That contract is the worst contract the city has, hands down,” he said. “The reason they get away with this terrible contract is because they have a monopoly on animal control services.”

Esparza said he’s hopeful the city will be able to find a new animal control vendor.

In April, the city solicited bids for animal control services. But as of The Bee’s deadline on Friday, the last day for vendors to submit bids, there were no other bidders.

The CCSPCA has had a rocky history with Fresno government bodies dating back nearly a decade. In 2011 and 2012, facing harsh criticism from animal advocates and politicians over euthanasia rates, the CCSPA threatened to end contracts with both Fresno County and the city of Fresno. County leaders eventually opted for another service provider, but the city since has maintained its agreement with CCSPCA.

Since then, the agency has steadily worked to reduce euthanasia rates little by little each year. At the same time, the number of reported dog bites doubled.

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Brianna Calix covers politics and investigations for The Bee, where she works to hold public officials accountable and shine a light on issues that deeply affect residents’ lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State.