A final showdown over California's first government-housed pet sterilization clinic is scheduled this morning before Stanislaus County leaders.
County supervisors in months past have shown support for a discount spay-neuter clinic within their proposed animal shelter, whose construction contract also is up for review today. The county would share it with Modesto, Ceres, Patterson, Waterford and Hughson.
But some leaders have expressed sympathy with veterinarians arguing against unfair competition. And it appears that veterinarians are making progress in curbing pet overpopulation since they got serious about a private discount service a few months ago.
Project X provides low-cost sterilization at 12 animal hospitals throughout the county without requiring that pet owners drive to one location, veterinarians contend.
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They're on target to fix 9,000 dogs and cats in Project X's first year, a representative said, while the county would require only 3,000 alterations in the first year of a contract with a nonprofit organization being considered today.
"We can reduce the unwanted population of dogs and cats in our county without government funding," wrote Susan Enz of Modesto's Village Oak Veterinary Hospital in a recent letter to the Board of Supervisors.
The county euthanized 14,357 animals in the last fiscal year at a cost of nearly $1.7 million.
County staff recommends that supervisors agree to a three-year contract with SAVED Inc., or Stanislaus Area Veterinarians for the Economically Disadvantaged. The nonprofit, headed by Maze Animal Hospital veterinarian Michael O'Brien, submitted the only proposal, initially embraced by supervisors in August.
SAVED says it would charge as little as $30 for cats and $50 for dogs, depending on the owner's income and the pet's gender and size. The group would spay and neuter feral cats for a discounted fee.
People living in cities that do not belong to the partnership -- Oakdale, Riverbank, Turlock and Newman -- would pay extra at the shelter, to be built near the county jail west of Ceres on Crows Landing Road.
The county would not charge rent or utilities. SAVED would be required to boost sterilizations from 3,000 the first year to 4,020 the next, according to the proposed contract.
County staff recommends moving forward with the full 3,635-square-foot shelter, although supervisors have the option today of removing the 1,635-square-foot clinic if swayed by private animal doctors.
"It is critical to note that it is not the county's intent to compete with the private veterinary community in the provision of veterinary serv-ices," a report reads. The discount clinic would only fix pets and give rabies shots, the report says.
County executives considered building proposals from seven firms, including three from Modesto and one from Salida, before narrowing their short list to three finalists, including two from Modesto. But they recommend awarding a $5 million contract to Diede Construction Inc. of Lodi, whose bid includes additional cost- saving ideas worth $85,400.
Reasonable bids should allow the county to build and equip the shelter for about $8.2 million, or $2.2 million less than previously anticipated, according to a report. The county has yet to buy cages and equipment for its veterinarian, who would operate separately from the SAVED clinic.
Supervisors will consider hiring Diversified Contract Management of Sacramento as project manager for $20,000. Krazan and Associates, a Modesto firm, is expected to land a $40,000 contract for inspection services.
Leaders of the county and five partner cities hope to hold a groundbreaking ceremony in late November or early December, and the shelter could open next fall.
The county plans to front money from its tobacco endowment fund, which would be replenished in 25 years by the partner cities making yearly payments of $548,800. Patterson, however, wants to make a one-time payment of $236,100, saving that city $121,000. Modesto's 25-year share will come to $5.87 million.
The county expects to hire five more animal control staff members and pay more in utilities at the new shelter, costing an extra $400,000 per year. The shelter this year expects to spend $3.28 million and bring in $1.77 million, with the $1.5 million gap covered by the county's general fund.
Today's Board of Supervisors meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. in the basement chamber of Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St., Modesto.Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2390.