Animal control hopes to save city $177K in fiscal year 2021

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
A dog awaits its forever home. The dog resided at the Sherman Animal Shelter in 2020.

Several money matters came out of last week's Sherman budget retreat. One of the big ticket items was related to potentially $177,000 in savings for the city.

During the budget retreat, representatives for the Sherman Police Department reported improvements in productivity and efficiency in its animal control division that could lead to a need of about $177,000 less in funding for the upcoming year.

As a part of the upcoming 2021 budget, the division is requesting just over $800,000. 

In October, Sherman moved the animal control division under the police hierarchy following issues with structure, efficiency and service quality that plagued the division. At the time, police officials expected that the change would save the city $10,000 annually.

"When we  took over operations in October, we conducted a complete and thorough needs assessment through personnel, fleet, technology to operations and management," Flores said. "We found a lot of places where there was a lack of accountability as far as employee duties, assignments."

After looking into the division, Flores said staff discovered multiple places where inefficiencies were discovered, ranging from staffing issues to fleet concerns.

So far, the division has taken in 1,500 animals for 2021, compared to the 2,500 that were taken in during 2020. Of these animals, 523 have been adopted and 205 were released to rescue groups. By comparison, 1,240 adoptions were done in 2020 and 369 animals were released to rescue organizations.

One of the issues that was discovered was a training deficit where only a few employees were trained animal control officers. This limited how much each of the employees could do and was an inefficiency in the department, Flores said. Since then, the department has started requiring that all employees maintain animal control officer training with the state of Texas.

Mary, pink, and Farley Sloan examine a cat that was about to be adopted at the Sherman Animal Shelter.

"At the time, we had a few people who could do a few things, but we had no one who could do everything," he said. 

These changes, and adjustments to policy, allowed the department to cut its overtime costs by 48 percent, Flores said.

Many of the changes revolved around positioning the division on the same support structure as the police department and the adoption of its policies. This includes changes in technology that allow for cross-references of calls between the two services and better communication. Using part of it's savings from this year, the division was able to purchase software that will allow it to better integrate with police and dispatch software for tracking everything from service calls to adoptions.

Other changes involved normalizing the department, which included making a single uniform for employees. Meanwhile, the department is in the process of formalizing the volunteer process.

"All of this was with current money. We didn't need to go back to city management," he said.

With regard to the facility, Flores said he was able to utilize the Parks and Recreation Department to undertake some needed repairs, including patches to the roof, fence remediation and consolidation of three storage buildings into a single structure.

"For the animal services employees, they are living in a completely different world," Flores said. "We show up one day, have a conversation with Parks and Recreation, and they are out there the next (day). They thought we had all the power in the world."

Going into 2021-2022, Flores said one of the high priorities will be to ramp up spaying and neutering efforts to control the animal population within the city. This comes after staff said in early June that the shelter was at capacity.

Flores attributed this to a combination of multiple factors, including the time of year, and a bottleneck when it comes to spaying and neutering, which slows the process in which animals can be adopted or taken in by rescue groups.

"There is a cat season and I didn't know," Flores joked Thursday. "It's just like anything else, I guess."

Flores noted that the increase in awareness of capacity issues is due to increased communications by the division since its merger. In previous times, the public would not be as aware of capacity concerns as it is today.

The department is looking into solutions for the capacity issue, Flores noted that whatever solution is found could result in an increase in budget, reducing some of the savings the department has seen. Still, Flores said that these necessary changes wouldn't have been seen without recent efforts to reform the division.

"What we needed to do was strip things back so we can look and see how things truly operated," he said. "Then we can put things back so we can be efficient in how we do things."