Officials say implementation of ACS audit recommendations underway

Animal Care Vision Task Force forms, meets for first time.

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The City of Long Beach is well underway in implementing the recommendations generated by an audit the City Auditor’s Office conducted last year of Long Beach Animal Care Services (ACS), according to the official who runs the shelter.

In an emailed response to the Signal Tribune Wednesday, Ted Stevens, ACS manager, wrote that he and his colleagues in management within the Department of Parks, Recreation & Marine (PRM) agreed with all the recommendations of the audit– the second phase of which was released late last month– and are already addressing many of the various concerns in the audit report, adding that Mayor Robert Garcia’s Long Beach Animal Care Vision Task Force has been formed. That group met for the first time last week.

When the findings of phase 2 were released Aug. 27, they pointed to a shortage of staff as the primary problem at the shelter. In fact, the second phase of the audit determined all core functions at the shelter to be understaffed, and it recommended that the City make any possible improvements now, review its resources, make the most of its revenues and align those resources in an imminent strategic plan.

The report, which looked to organizations such as the National Animal Care and Control Association and the Humane Society of the United States for guidance and compared animal-control operations in Long Beach to those in other cities, included 11 findings: that the volunteer program is not maximized to assist ACS service delivery; a lack of animal-care attendants to meet minimum-care requirements; not enough animal-control officers to meet basic coverage requirements; that ACS is below the peer average for veterinary staff per animal; that ACS is below the peer average for staff dedicated to life-saving programs; low staff morale; that ACS is not fully recovering the cost for services that it provides to neighboring contract cities; almost $1 million in citations have not been collected since 2009; that the animal-licensing compliance rate is comparable to those of other cities but increasing the number of licensed animals would improve ACS’s cost recovery; that vaccination and pet license data are not entered into the database in a timely manner; and that it is unclear if the license canvassing program is effective.

The audit report states that ACS and the City should use a three-prong approach in addressing the City Auditor’s Office’s 186 recommendations, including: implementing standard operating procedures to improve core functions; developing a shared vision and strategic plan to guide and set priorities; and reviewing resources and maximizing revenue to align with priorities.

The report includes a section for management response, which includes an Aug. 6 memorandum from Gerardo Mouet, PRM director, that expresses his department’s agreement with the recommendations and an action plan.

“We are excited to report on some of the progress already being made on phase-1 recommendations, which will help PRM address some of the items contained in phase 2,” Mouet’s memo states. “One of the more significant findings in phase 1 was the need to develop a shared vision and strategic plan for ACS. The development of such [a] plan will help guide PRM with addressing many of the recommendations from both reports.”

The action plan is presented as a chart with: the audit’s recommendations; priority designations of high, medium or low; the actions to be taken; and target dates for implementation. There is also a column for whether PRM management agrees or disagrees with each recommendation and the party responsible for taking the action; PRM agreed with each, and ACS is identified as the responsible department for each.

One recommendation is to revise the formula used to calculate contract values to include a proportionate share of field services and administrative costs and update contract service costs to reflect changes in services provided each year. Another is to work toward increasing license compliance by 8 percent by expanding collection and public-outreach efforts. The report also recommends staff determine if license canvassing is cost-beneficial, including the consideration of shifting canvass positions to other shelter service areas or functions that are prioritized or may add more value.

PRM management provided responses– in some cases, detailed– to each item, as well as target-implementation dates for all but four.

“As you can see in our response, some of the items are aligned with our upcoming strategic planning process, scheduled to begin early in 2019, but [that] has already begun, to some extent, with the creation of the mayor’s ACS visioning task force,” Stevens wrote. “The item related to the contract cities was already completed and implemented in the recent contract renewals. The recommendations related to the licensing program and canvassing operations [are] currently being worked on through the [request-for-proposal] process to determine if this can be contracted out to a vendor. We have begun the initial steps of communicating with the Financial Management Department to assist with the collection efforts for the unpaid debt. And, lastly, we are currently working on a plan to attempt to increase our licensing compliance and revenue generation based on the recommendations from the report.”

However, Stevens emphasized that the report was based on 2017 information and that ACS has since been able to add key staff members because of city council approval.

“Since then, some things have changed,” he said. “In [Fiscal Year] 2018, council approved the addition of a third [registered veterinary technician] position and a full-time marketing person, and in FY ‘19, council approved an additional part-time veterinarian position and $120,000 of one-time funds for adoptions. So, improvements are being made in those areas with regard to staffing.”

Stevens also indicated that ACS generates almost $2 million in annual revenue, which, he said, is almost 40-percent cost recovery for its $5-million budget.

“This wasn’t in the comparison with the other shelters,” he said, “but I believe that, as a percentage of budgetary-cost recovery, we would be the highest or at least at the top part of the list.”

The full audit report is available at, under “Reports.”