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City grappling with budget cuts

On Monday, as the Petaluma City Council began to address the difficult question of how to trim roughly $1.6 million, or five percent, from next year's general fund budget, Mayor David Glass expressed the sentiment that all the council members seemed to be feeling: There were simply no easy cuts left to be made.

One issue that took center stage was Petaluma's Animal Services Division. The division is part of the Police Department, and when City Manager John Brown asked each department to find ways to trim its budget by five percent, Police Chief Dan Fish proposed eliminating both of the existing animal control positions — in addition to freezing a police officer position, eliminating a temporary officer position, and freezing a dispatcher position.

But the suggestion that both animal control officer positions be done away drew criticism from community members who said that the positions are important and that regular police officers are not trained to handle the same issues.

Now, thanks to some costs being lower than expected, it appears that only one animal control position will be cut.

Still, some would like to see if more savings are possible and find an alternate way of funding Petaluma Animal Services. So, the city is again looking at the possibility of contracting the service to a nonprofit or other outside agency.

The Petaluma Animal Services Foundation submitted a proposal to take over operations as a nonprofit to the Police Department about a month ago, at the City Council's recommendation, said Valerie Fausone, a foundation board member.

Fausone and others created the foundation in 2011 because of concerns over how the city could continue to fund animal services. They submitted a similar proposal to take over the program at that time. But Brown rejected that proposal, citing concerns over how it would affect city employees, among other things.

But now, the city is looking at the option again.

"The spirit (of our proposal) is the same as last year," Fausone said. She added that the foundation's hope was to save both animal control positions, keep or enhance the services that the city currently provides, and make the operation self-supporting with grants, donations and community outreach.

Lt. Tim Lyons said that the Police Department is considering the foundation's proposal and may also consider proposals from the nonprofit Marin Humane Society and Sonoma County's Animal Care and Control.

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