GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - Garfield County commissioners offered assurances during a Tuesday work session that they don't intend to cut funding for a popular nonprofit animal shelter.
However, the commissioners may still want to look at costs to run the county's animal control program when it comes time to draft the 2014 county budget.
That could include revisiting $680,000 worth of contracts for animal boarding and medical services with the nonprofit Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE) and the private Divide Creek Animal Hospital.
"Our goal is not to shut down the animal shelter, but we do have to take a close look at this," Commissioner Mike Samson said during the Tuesday morning meeting with Garfield County Animal Control officials.
In addition to Sheriff Lou Vallario and his animal control staff, the meeting was attended by CARE representatives and several supporters of the Spring Valley-based rescue shelter.
"We will have some tough decisions to make in the future, and we have to look at the big picture," Samson said in reference to what's projected to be a sizable drop in county property tax revenues starting next year.
That will mean "setting the right priorities and finding the right solutions" in terms of budgeting for county programs and services, said Commission Chairman John Martin.
It was fellow Commissioner Tom Jankovsky who first questioned the county's animal control costs when the Care and Divide Creek contracts were approved in January.
Jankovsky said Tuesday that he mostly wanted a better understanding of how the animal control program works.
"We don't have an animal control problem in the county, so you are on top of it," Jankovsky said after that explanation was provided by Vallario and Aimee Chappelle, animal control program coordinator for the sheriff's office.
Jankovsky noted that neighboring Eagle and Mesa counties spend $622,000 and $875,000, respectively, for animal control. Garfield County, at a total program cost of $932,000, is "in the ballpark," he said.
But efficiencies might be found to help cut costs, Jankovsky advised.
Garfield County has had an animal control program since 1996, but until 2005 it was inadequately funded, Vallario said.
A comprehensive animal control plan was adopted, which included working with CARE to provide boarding, medical needs and an adoption program for stray dogs and cats.
The county looked at building its own animal shelter, Vallario said.
But, at a projected cost in 2006 of between $6 million and $10 million to do so, the county decided to continue working with CARE. It also began contracting with Divide Creek to provide temporary shelter services for the west end of the county, he said.
Animals brought to Divide Creek typically are boarded and cared for there for five days before being taking to CARE's facility on the Colorado Mountain College campus in Spring Valley.
Instead of paying for services on a "per dog/cat" basis, the county also decided at that time to adopt a "total animal control management concept," Vallario said.
"When you look at the total dollars and divide it per dog, it doesn't add up," he admitted. "But that's a misconception."
Through a comprehensive spay and neuter program, including an annual spay/neuter clinic, plus a licensing and pet adoption program, it does pay off in the long run, Vallario said.
The result, Chappelle said, has been far fewer dogs and cats returning to the streets after they've been caught by animal control officers, and fewer unwanted puppies and kittens.
"In a nutshell, we have beaten back the unwanted animal numbers through the spay and neuter program, with money you have provided," Chappelle told the commissioners.