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Will new animal shelter still cheat Manteca residents?
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Manteca’s woefully inadequate animal shelter is finally being addressed.

A new $2 million shelter is the first phase of an effort to consolidate and upgrade municipal public works operations ranging from fleet maintenance to water service to the streets division and refuse collection on property that straddles Wetmore Street in the Manteca Industrial Park.

The overall goal is to save money by reducing trips and consolidating operations in one location which happens to be central to the entire city. It will allow some staff reductions as well. The bottom line is savings to the general fund in excess of $500,000 a year when completed.

Property purchases of course were at an opportune time. The animal shelter itself is being paid from government facilities fees assessed on new growth when building permits are issued. The rest of the work is being done with non-general fund money primarily from users fees collected on item sewer, and refuse service. In all three cases enough of a reserve has been built thanks in part to cost-savings moves two years ago that the project will be built without rate increases. By streamlining operations in each enterprise operation it is actually expected to help keep rates down although a state mandate for cleaner burning garbage trucks plus a need down the road to bury Manteca’s garbage elsewhere may force a rate increase of significant consequence for garbage.

The decision to place the animal shelter along South Main Street just across the tracks from the central district was perhaps a no-brainer since it arguably has the highest public access needs. Even so, putting the animal shelter on Manteca’s main north-south retail corridor not only makes it easier to find but it takes animal control itself from an out-of-sight, out-of-mind operation to a high profile concern. The site could be parlayed for a lot of pet-related activities including emphasizing the need for licensing and rabies shots as well as pet adoption. And what better 24/7 advertisement than dog kennels visible to the public on major thoroughfare.

Hopefully issues about barking dogs have been considered as the shelter is a bit closer to homes than before.

But that isn’t the real pressing question.

At the risk of sounding a bit like former councilman Jack Snyder, why should the city sink $2 million-plus into a new animal shelter if they aren’t going to address the question of Lathrop paying for its fair share of shelter space and services they employ?

Staff reports show Lathrop is using about 25 percent of the current shelter space and staff services at the Wetmore Street location to care for stray dogs and cats that their animal control folks pick up and take to the shelter. Lathrop only pays for 17 percent of the overall costs.

This is unfair for reasons of which neither are minor.

First, Manteca taxpayers should not be subsidizing Lathrop.

Second, making room for Lathrop stray dogs over and above what that city pays for simply means strays that are unclaimed from Manteca have a shorter life span since they are bumped by Lathrop strays.

The new animal shelter is targeted to open late in summer of 2011.

The council, if they give the go ahead Tuesday night, should condition the approval with the caveat that a new contract with Lathrop be put in place where they either pay for actual services used or are limited to space that they pay for especially since Lathrop’s growth is not helping pay for the $2 million-plus construction tab.

This should be a high priority given the staff’s emphasis in the past year on cost recovery to keep the general fund in balance