Hidalgo County splits animal control services three waysdfwnewsa | January 11, 2024 | 0 | East Texas News , South Texas News
EDINBURG — Six months after county officials here were heavily considering severing ties with Palm Valley Animal Society over the rising costs of animal control services, they have partially reversed course.
During a Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court meeting Tuesday, county leaders finalized plans to partner with three separate animal control service providers over the next two years, including Palm Valley.
But now, added to the mix will be the city of Weslaco, which has operated its own animal shelter for several years, and the city of La Joya, which opened its shelter in 2023.
“We were actually paying close to $1.2 million, I think, and so, what we’re looking to do is broaden our options,” Precinct 2 Hidalgo County Commissioner Eduardo “Eddie” Cantu explained to citizen watchdog Fern McClaugherty during Tuesday’s meeting.
“We used to work only with PVAS, now we’re gonna work with PVAS, Weslaco, La Joya,” Cantu added.
HISTORY WITH PVAS
For decades, PVAS has provided animal control services to the county and many of its municipalities.
The organization, which operates two facilities in Edinburg, is the largest animal shelter in the region.
In 2022, PVAS took in nearly 12,600 animals — including more than 4,200 as part of its contract with Hidalgo County.
By contrast, Cameron County took in 4,500 animals at its county-owned shelter that same year, while Weslaco took in 7,800.
But with such a largescale operation come largescale expenses — costs that were beginning to prove untenable to Hidalgo County officials.
The county was under contract to pay PVAS $840,000 per year for animal control services in 2023; however, last April, the shelter requested an additional $250,000 to pay for cost overruns.
Though the commissioners’ court approved the budget amendment at the time, PVAS officials later said that the money had not yet been transferred to the organization by July 2023, when The Monitor was the first to report the county was exploring other animal control options.
When fiscal planning season rolled around last fall, however, county leaders approved a $360,000 increase to the PVAS budget for 2024 for a total of $1.2 million.
But that appropriation came months after the county had hired Mission-based B2Z Engineering to explore the possibility of creating a county-owned animal control center.
The county first tasked B2Z with figuring out how much it would cost to build shelters of various sizes at three potential locations in the eastern half of Hidalgo County.
B2Z’s projections showed it would cost between $3 million to $10.5 million to build the facilities, plus an additional $1.3 million to $3 million per year to operate them, depending on the size the county chose.
Unsatisfied, county leaders next tasked B2Z with exploring two more potential sites, though officials never publicly discussed the results of that second study, which the commissioners’ court authorized in late-July 2023.
Without any further public discussion, the county appears to have abandoned plans to run its own animal shelter.
“Can you kind of explain why we’re doing this and how is it helping the people that live here?” asked McClaugherty, a longtime member of a government watchdog group known as the Objective Watchers of the Legal System, or OWLS.
“We did look into doing it ourselves and the analysis came up that we were better off doing what we did, which is basically dividing our pet population into three different centers,” County Judge Richard F. Cortez said.
By partnering with three different organizations, the county plans to save more than a quarter-of-a-million dollars per year.
Rather than pay PVAS alone $1.2 million per year, Hidalgo County will now pay a total of $924,000 between PVAS, Weslaco and La Joya.
Under the terms of the new agreements, Hidalgo County will pay PVAS $624,000 to take in up to 2,000 animals per year, with a maximum of 166 animals per month.
At $52,000 per month, that breaks down to a little more than $313 per animal.
If the shelter has capacity, it will take in additional animals at an overage rate of $365 per animal, according to a draft copy of the contract between PVAS and Hidalgo County.
The intake of dead animals will cost $30 each. And large dogs — those weighing more than 20 pounds — will be limited to eight per day.
Meanwhile, Weslaco and La Joya have each agreed to take in 1,000 animals per year for $150,000.
Weslaco added further stipulations to its contract with the county, including that it will only accept a maximum of 20 animals per week, and that deceased animals will not count toward that tally.
However, the city will still charge $85 per animal to process dead animals.
Weslaco will further charge the county $150 for each instance of tranquilization or euthanasia, and $250 per animal that requires quarantining.
Combined, the county will pay the three entities $924,000, for an annual cost savings of $276,000.
“We were looking to see if we could provide the best service animals at the lowest cost to the taxpayers,” Cortez said.
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