Laguna Hills accepts Mission Viejo’s proposal for animal care

LAGUNAHILLS.com – The City Council has decided to part ways with OC Animal Care in favor of a proposal from Mission Viejo Animal Services.

Laguna Hills Mayor Barbara Kogerman said the quality of service and proximity of Mission Viejo’s facility, along with dismay with the county’s weathered shelter and high euthanasia rates were among the reasons for the transition.

“This is a city of animal lovers and this is a city that deserves to have the kind of service that the Mission Viejo facility offers,” she said at Tuesday’s council meeting.

The plan is to make Mission Viejo the provider for animal control and sheltering for the city, but the decision is contingent on whether Rancho Santa Margarita accepts Mission Viejo’s proposal.

Mission Viejo’s City Council sent Rancho Santa Margarita and Laguna Hills cost proposals on March 8 that if both approve, would mean lower costs for Laguna Hills.

Rancho Santa Margarita’s council votes on the proposal Wednesday night.

“It is a benefit to all three cities,” Kogerman said. “I am assuming Rancho will approve it.”

If they don’t, she said Laguna Hills would either have to stay with the county or find another alternative by the April deadline cities have to respond to the county’s 10-year contract with OC Animal Care.

Assuming Rancho Santa Margarita accepts Mission Viejo’s proposal, the transition would cost Laguna Hills $580,855 in the first year, $198,851 more than if they contract with the county.

The cost is broken down into $170,155 for first-year operating costs, $345,700 for a one-time capital contribution in building modifications and $65,000 for a new animal service vehicle.

The second year would cost the city $188,558; $173,558 in operating costs and $15,000 in yearly capital costs.

Laguna Hills Assistant City Manager Don White said they expect going with Mission Viejo will pay off in the long run.

“After the first year’s capital contribution, the cost differential is a modest increase at 14-15 percent,” White said. “It is staff’s opinion that Mission Viejo is in a better position to control costs over the long run.”

Laguna Hills began looking for an alternative to OC Animal Care after a Grand Jury report in May criticized county officials for neglecting the condition of the animal shelter in Orange.

Even though the county plans to start building a new shelter in Tustin in June, Laguna Hills residents, including Jean Bland, were happy with the decision.

“It is such a relief,” Bland said.

Bland has advocated leaving OC Animal Care for 15 years, and criticizes the county for its euthanasia rates.

“With all that is going on in the world today, one of the biggest fears of residents should not be that their animal gets out and winds up in the county shelter,” she said.

According to Laguna Hills’ staff report, the euthanasia rate at the county shelter is 6 percent for dogs from Laguna Hills and 48 percent for cats. The overall rate for all animals was 33 percent in 2014. By comparison, Mission Viejo reports a 7 percent overall euthanasia rate.

If Ranch Santa Margarita agrees to contract with Mission Viejo, Laguna Hills’ City Council will come back on April 12 to vote on the contract. If the contract is approved, the transition to Mission Viejo could begin in Janunary 2017.

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