PIMA COUNTY, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Pima County will take $1.5 million out of the general fund, taxpayer dollars, to plug a hole in animal care.
Pima Animal Care Center operates as part of the county's Health Care system and is paid for by the Health Services budget.
The problem is, PACC has been operating at a half million to a million dollar deficit every year.
Health Services has been making up the difference but now Pima County officials have had enough of that.
It's the same budget that pays for childhood immunizations and disease prevention among other things.
So the question has been raised, is the county sacrificing human health care for animal care?
"That's what we're trying to prevent," says District V County Supervisor Richard Elias.
So the county will begin the process of dividing the two agencies in hopes of making animal care a separate, stand alone agency which covers is own expenses.
That will be difficult because "typically our fees at Animal Care cover only about 50% of the actual recovery costs," says Elias.
If the county raises fees to help cover the costs "you run the risk of non-compliance," he says.
The county has appointed a 30 member commission to study the issue to try to find ways to make the care center more modern and to offer budget suggestions.
One suggestion may be to make other bodies which contract with Animal Care pay more, like the city of Tucson or Oro Valley and Sahuarita.
Another may make it part of law enforcement rather than health, even though health is a big part of its mission.
"We do law enforcement and that should be a general fund subsidy," says Jan Lesher, an assistant County Administrator. "But sheltering is not a hard core component."
The county would like to find a perfect public/private partnership to help defray the costs and reduce the subsidy.
"I'm not sure subsidy is the right word," Elias says. "It's the cost of doing business."
Animals cannot be allowed to run free without some kind of control because health and safety of the public is an issue.
"If a dog gets away and spreads rabies and other health issues, that's a problem," says Lesher.
When the county writes the check and makes Animal Care whole again, it's for this year alone. Next year, the issue starts all over again.
That is, if nothing is done.