Fresno Co. gets grass-roots push for animal shelter tax
Neither the city of Fresno nor the county is stepping up to support a new tax for a countywide animal shelter. But that only has emboldened shelter proponents.
A loose coalition of animal rescue groups said Tuesday it’s accelerating its independent effort to put a tax on the June 2014 ballot, hoping to secure money not only for a shelter but for the personnel to pick up and manage the county’s large number of unwanted animals.
Organizers expect to soon start collecting the 20,000 signatures needed to take the countywide one-tenth-of-a-cent sales tax to voters.
“Sometimes the community has to step up to the plate, and this is one of those times,” said Derrel Ridenour, a Fresno businessman at the center of the ballot effort.
“We’ve been trying to get the politicians to support the measure, but that hasn’t worked out.”
Going at it alone won’t be easy. The independent campaign not only needs to run a petition drive — the city and county can put measures on the ballot without signatures — but the effort has to develop an organizational base.
The animal-rescue community historically has reflected a variety of opinions and isn’t accustomed to leveraging a single political voice.
“They’re going to need to unify is what they’re going need to do, set aside their differences,” said Valley political consultant Tim Orman, who has worked on several local campaigns. “They’re going to have to develop an organization and structure. But their passion may help them do that.”
Orman cites the passage of Measure Z, the county’s 2004 zoo tax, as a successful blueprint for the shelter effort.
The push for the shelter tax comes as the Central California Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals leaves the animal-control business. The organization has long provided services for both the city of Fresno and the county but last year gave notice after criticism of its euthanasia policies.
The county opened a small shelter to fill the void while the city remains in contract with the SPCA temporarily. Both need a long-term strategy.
City and county leaders so far have been unable to agree on a joint plan.
A proposal last week, put forth by county Supervisor Henry Perea, called for the county to get behind a new shelter tax, but it failed to win the support of the Board of Supervisors. On Tuesday, the board officially dropped the proposal.
The Fresno City Council also has appeared uninterested in a tax.
On Monday, Fresno City Manager Mark Scott sent a letter to the county expressing support for continued discussion of a joint animal-control plan. But the letter was short on details.
Perea said taking the tax effort out of the hands of government leaders is not necessarily a bad thing.
“It puts aside the politics of the issue,” he said. “Rather than the city and county coming together to say this is a good idea or bad idea, you have the community making the decision. That’s really the best place to be.”
The tax initiative, which organizers are calling Measure H, would run for 10 years. It would need a two-thirds vote to pass.
If successful, the measure would raise an estimated $10 million annually. Currently, the city and county spend a little more than $3 million a year combined on animal control.
Measure H supporters hope to use the tax money to finance construction of a new animal shelter and provide animal control across the county as well as launch spay-and-neuter programs and educate pet owners — both aimed at limiting unwanted pets.
The cities that run their own animal-control programs, such as Clovis, would keep their share of the tax proceeds.
“Something needs to be done,” said Sally George, with the dog-adoption group Animal Rescue of Fresno, adding that too many animals are being euthanized.
The ultimate goal, George said, is to make sure no animals have to be killed.
By Kurtis Alexander