City council holds lengthy hearing on Elk Grove Animal Shelter, takes no specific actions

Elk Grove Vice Mayor told animal shelter advocates the city has many competing 
interests for taxpayers' money during the August 9 city council meeting. | 

After hearing a lengthy staff presentation on Elk Grove's Animal Shelter and extensive public comment, the Elk Grove Cty Council made no specific action on community requests to hire an additional full-time veterinarian during the Wednesday, August 9 regular meeting.

The presentation heard during the meeting was a recap of a staffing study commissioned by Elk Grove to study staffing, operations, and financing of the animal shelter. Citygate Associates conducted the study. 

The facility, organizationally part of the Elk Grove Police Department, opened in October 2019 to address the city's growing pet population that the city-contracted provider, Sacramento County, had not sufficiently handled. 

During her presentation, Citygate representative Jan Glick said their study found that the animal shelter uses best practices but needs more staffing. During repeated meetings, the city council has heard pleas from cat advocates that the city needs to hire another veterinarian to handle the need for spay and neuter programs.  

"We recommend veterinary care goals being better met with more staff," Glick said.

Glick told the city council they recommend adding 10 new staff members, not including existing vacancies. These staff additions could be phased in over five years. 

Also speaking to the city council was the animal shelter manager, Sarah Humlie. During her presentation, Humlie said there are currently two vacancies, down from six when the study was conducted. 

As they have for several months, the city council heard extensive public comments from advocates encouraging additional trap-neuter-release (TNR) programming. Although TNR is a widely adopted feral cat population control practice, it has been criticized, and its success is not quantifiable, according to one study.

Almost all speakers urged the city council to immediately hire a veterinarian to expand TNR operations. 

During city council deliberations, Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen asked Humlie about using on-call contract veterinarians. Humlies told Singh-Allen there had been trouble recruiting these individuals because of the city's insurance policies. 

"Some of our insurance requirements for the veterinarians, it created some hurdles they had to go through," Humlie said. 

As noted in the presentation, the animal shelter has a budget exceeding $4 million annually, with a revenue recovery of only $300,000+. Seizing on the city's general fund expenses, Vice Mayor Kevin Spease said the city has many considerations to make when allocating taxpayer money. 

"One thing I do want to point out is that the animal shelter is highly subsidized by the general fund," Spease said. "We need to be very aware that not only do we have an animal shelter, we have other city issues as well."

He added, "We have competing interests - crime, homelessness, just a whole bunch of other things" and, "I ask you to recognize that we have other competing interests."

At the deliberations ended, Singh-Allen summarized what had been said by her colleagues, staff, and the public. She also killed the immediate hiring of a full-time veterinarian but said contract veterinarians should be fully utilized.

"I think there is a consensus here, nobody is in support of a full-time staff person and the additional costs and burdens that would place on the city," she said.  

Singh-Allen added, "We are not voting on anything."
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