There was no holding back Tuesday when the Chino Hills City Council told the top dogs at the Inland Valley Humane Society (IVHS) that their agency was a monopoly forcing the city to accept a contract that ballooned to $680,000 per fiscal year for two years.
In addition to the substantial contract increase, rates for residents such as license fees, impound fees, release fees, and kenneling costs increased in the 50 to 100 percent range.
Residents will now pay $30 for license fees for their altered dogs, up from $20. License fees for unaltered dogs went up from $50 to $100.
Just four years ago, license fees for altered dogs were $15.
In 2021, the city’s net cost was $200,563. The gross contract was $502,564, but the “guaranteed revenue” lowered it to $200,563.
“We’re frustrated by this huge contract increase because we have a fiduciary responsibility to our residents to keep costs down,” said Councilman Art Bennett. “You’re the closest thing to a monopolistic entity there is. We have to take a vote because you’re the only game in town.”
Councilman Peter Rogers said the significant increase is disappointing given the city’s 29-year history with the Humane Society.
“We worked with your dad,” he said to Humane Society CEO Nikole Bresciani, referring to her father, former CEO Bill Harford, whose job she took over when he retired.
“We pushed him to focus on a no-kill effort and we were the first to adopt the Getting 2 Zero program,” he said.
Mr. Rogers said Chino Hills is the only city among those that contract with the IVHS that subsidizes microchipping for residents by offering rebates and is the only city with a program where adoption fees are subsidized by the city if residents adopt a dog that came from Chino Hills.
Many of these efforts were the result of an ad hoc committee with the city, no-kill advocates, and the Humane Society, he said.
“It is a monopoly and you know that,” he said. “There is very little game in town available to us.”
Mr. Rogers said conversations are taking place among the contract cities about how to come up with alternatives.
Chino Hills will be exploring alternatives in the next two years, he added.
City staff determined that neighboring animal control agencies including the City of Upland and the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health were not viable options.
IVHS President and CEO Ms. Bresciani said numerous factors are contributing to higher operational costs and a new annual cost model has been presented to all its contract cities, including Chino, Ontario, Pomona, and others.
Some of the reasons are increases in regulatory costs, animal care costs, salary and benefit costs, and liability costs.
Also, as more animals are spayed and neutered, revenues from license fees have been declining for some time.
As for being a “monopoly” and “the only game in town,” Ms. Bresciani said Wednesday that every city has options to contract for animal care and control such as the county or to provide the service themselves.
“To simply say that a city is going to contract with IVHS because we’re the only game in town is not how we view our partnerships in providing animal care and control services,” she said. “We have had a 29-year partnership with the City of Chino Hills, and during that time, IVHS has gone above and beyond in providing service.”
She noted the Humane Society’s assistance with sheltering and feeding animals during fires or disasters in Chino Hills, low-cost veterinary services for residents, trap-neuter/spay-release program for cats, wildlife education and removal and relocation of wildlife, and community events.
“The enhanced programs and services IVHS provide beyond basic domestic animal care and control is made possible by generous donors in Chino Hills and beyond,” Ms. Bresciani said.
Councilman Ray Marquez said he drove by the IVHS facilities on Tuesday and noticed a lot of construction. “They have been spending a lot of money over the years for new offices that look like the Taj Mahal and a beautiful medical center,” he said. “But if you look at the kennels, nothing has happened in the last 20-plus years. They look the same,” he said.
Mr. Marquez asked Ms. Bresciani to provide the city with costs incurred over the past 10 years for the medical center versus the kennels.
Ms. Bresciani said Wednesday that the kennels have been updated over the years and as recently as this year.
She said new awnings have been installed, new paint, new plumbing, new sewer, new electrical, new heating, new gates and locks, and new roofs.
“As far as cosmetics, these are indoor/outdoor kennels so we are always mindful of the extreme temperatures from the seasons and maintain the kennels accordingly,” she said.
As for construction, a medical center called the “Alex and Elisabeth Lewyt Medical Center” is being built and estimated costs for completion will be approximately $8.5 to $9 million, depending on the availability of raw materials as supply chains continue to be affected due to COVID-19, she said.
“The medical center is anticipated to be completed in the winter of 2022, as we have faced unforeseen construction delays as you can imagine doing construction during a pandemic,” she said. “The total cost of the building includes re-routing the Pomona Police Department training facility road and infilling a flood control channel to make way for that road.”
Mr. Marquez said there was a long line of people waiting to visit the kennels on Tuesday when it was very hot without pop-up shade shelters.
Ms. Bresciani acknowledged that shade shelters are needed because trees have been removed in preparation for construction.
“It’s disappointing to hear you’re not satisfied with the service,” she said. “We will do better and that is what I can commit to you.”
Councilwoman Cynthia Moran said she would like the IVHS to improve publicity on the adoption fee waiver so that Chino Hills residents know ahead of time that their fees will be waived if they purchase a dog that came from Chino Hills.
She said residents have told her that the response time in picking up a dead animal is too long. The IVHS has a 24-hour turnaround, but she suggested that timeframe could be shortened.
Ms. Moran also was not happy that residents have to pay a fee when the IVHS picks up their deceased dog.
She said those costs should be a part of the contract.
IVHS uses a cremation method for dog and cat disposal, but new and more strenuous South Coast Air Quality Management District regulations have increased the rates that IVHS historically pays, according to a city staff report.
Ms. Moran also asked for statistics on how many residents are taking advantage of the subsidized adoptions and microchipping.
New cost model
Under the new “gross cost model,” 100 percent of the revenues will be returned to the city to offset the $680,000 cost but there is no “guaranteed” annual revenue amount like there is under the “net cost model.”
Under the “net cost model,” the city would have been invoiced for the net cost of the contract with a guaranteed revenue offset amount of $175,000 for Chino Hills, bringing the city’s maximum annual cost to $505,000.
Assistant city manager Rod Hill said that accepting the gross cost model was a better approach than accepting the net cost model, especially in a canvass year.
With the canvassing and the new fee increases, he projected that revenues will substantially offset the increased contract costs.
He provided a chart to the council showing that estimated revenues would be $346,995 in a non-canvass year, bringing the gross contract cost of $680,000 down to $333,005. In a canvass year, the estimated revenues would be $567,772, bringing the gross contract cost down to $112,228.
The Humane Society began canvassing the city on July 1 by placing door hangers on everybody’s doors, without knocking, to remind them about licensing their pets.
The yellow door hangers caused confusion to several residents because they contained the following words at the top: “Notice to Purchase Pet License” and at the bottom: “failure to purchase pet license immediately may result in court action.”
Residents who have pets that were already licensed posted on social media they were worried about the message and others who don’t have pets wondered if it was a mistake.
IVHS employees are driving their personal vehicles and are carrying a badge. They are wearing uniforms with dark blue pants, a dark blue polo shirt with the agency logo, a dark blue hat with a logo, and a face mask.