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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.

Fausone said that she'd be happy if any of the proposals worked out. "The best thing for everyone is to look at all the options," she said. "We're all for the benefit of the shelter."

Councilmember Teresa Barrett said she hoped to see a solution come from the proposal. "There's a lot of strong feelings about (Petaluma Animal Services) in the community," she said. "We do have a really good service, but unless we get a new model, it's not going to (continue to) happen."

But cuts to animal services weren't the only ones that drew concern from the Council. Councilmembers Mike Healy and Chris Albertson said after the meeting that they were especially concerned about the loss of two more police officer positions when the department has already lost 13 in the last three years.

Vice Mayor Tiffany Ren? spoke passionately about the proposal to shorten all of the city's summer camps by one week, saying that it would be a "direct hit" to community members who cannot afford more expensive child care for their children in the summer.

"If this item comes forward, I'll probably vote no on the entire budget because of it," she said.

If the city manages to achieve the savings laid out at Monday's hearing, Petaluma will be able to end the next fiscal year with a reserve of about $308,500, or about 1 percent of the $32 million budget. In better economic times, the goal was to have closer to reserve that equalled a much higher percent of the city's operating budget.

While the city's fiscal situation is "very tight," according to the City's Finance Director Bill Mushallo, there are some bright spots. One is that revenue from sales tax is increasing faster than the city expected. Those revenues will be $280,000, or about 7 percent, more than expected for the fiscal year, Mushallo said. By 2016, factors like this, in addition to revenues from the Target shopping center, should bring the reserve up to roughly $1,216,000, a slightly more comfortable 3.8 percent of the city's current budget.

The City Council is scheduled to see a draft budget at its May 7 meeting.

(Contact Jamie Hansen at jamie.hansen@argus courier.com)