The 2015-16 Madera County Grand Jury has released its findings and recommendations - a result of six investigations over the past year.
Probably the two most critical reports were on the heavy water usage by residents of Special District MD-95 and CSA-16 (Madera Ranchos area districts) - and on the “underfunded” county Department of Animal Services working out of a “facility in disrepair” that was built in 1973.
On a five-year average (2010-2014), the two Ranchos areas used about a million gallons of water per year, per dwelling - two-to-four times any other of the 28 special water districts in the county. The average per dwelling annual usage by the other 26 districts was 223,150 gallons.
The six-month investigation into animal services was the result of two citizens complaints regarding the operation of the MCAS, and although no evidence was found to support the complaints, the jury did discover numerous deficiencies requiring immediate actions.
The Madera County Animal Shelter (MCAS) at 14269 Road 28, cares for about 7,400 animals annually.
The report findings, after interviews with animal shelter employees, a volunteer with Friends of Madera Animal Shelter (FMAS), a department director, members of the board of supervisors, and an unscheduled visit to the animal shelter, included:
☆ The facility is old, in disrepair, and inadequate to accommodate the needs of the county.
☆ Although the staff and volunteers are dedicated, staffing levels at the facility are inadequate and the department is unable to deliver the services required by law.
☆ The MCAS budget is insufficient to allow the department to operate without relying on the support of volunteers and to be able to deliver the services required by law. The MCAS 2015 fiscal year budget was $1,073,376. The budget for a similar size facility is $2 million.
☆ At the time of this investigation, the Board of Supervisors has not taken decisive action regarding recommendations of the 2013-2014 Grand Jury.
☆ The grand jury found that the animal shelter director is paid $5,672 per month, significantly underpaid compared to other similar counties. A January 2016 study of nine comparable counties with similar positions paid anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 more per month.
In its report, the grand jury made the following recommendations:
☆ The county Board of Supervisors allocate funds to build a new animal shelter within three years.
☆ The county Board of Supervisors increase the budget for the Department of Animal Services to reflect budgets of like facilities by the 2017-2018 budget year.
☆ Supervisors fund staff positions to a total of 15 full-time employees at the Department of Animal Services.
☆ Supervisors increase the salary of the Animal Services Department Director commensurate with comparable positions in comparable counties by the 2017-2018 budget year.
☆ The Director of Animal Services ensure all full-time employees receive annual evaluations per Madera County policy.
☆ Supervisors specifically respond to these recommendations and not just reference responses that may be submitted by the director of the department. Identify a specific date for implementing recommendations they endorse and not state “in the future” or some other vague timeframe.
No one knows the challenges faced by the department better than Director of Animal Services Kristen Gross.
“The department is in need of upgrades on every level,” Gross said. “The facilities are inadequate, most of the vehicles have over 100,000 miles, computer systems will need replacement as current equipment is refurbished from other departments, radio and communication systems are inadequate, and staffing shortages all result in substandard services for our residents and their animals. Inadequate resources also present health and safety concerns for employees as well as the public they serve.”
Gross said her staff is totally devoted to the community and its animals.
“We serve the public to the best of our ability with the resources we have available to us,” Gross explained. “Staff and volunteers find space in their homes and their hearts to care for those animals that need extra time, extra healing, and extra love.”
Gross said that because residents of the county have an incredible passion for animals, the department is blessed with support from veterinarians, service clubs, the food bank, feed stores, Petsmart, Petco, Walmart, and many other organizations that work closely with the animal shelter staff and volunteers to provide essential services and supplies.
The Friends of Madera Animal Shelter volunteers provide resources for the shelter and essential volunteer labor.
“Because of these partnerships, the shelter has achieved dramatic improvements in multiple categories including thousands of successful adoptions annually, hundreds of animals transported to rescue groups every month, and spay/neuter programs decreasing the number of incoming animals, and dramatically improved live release rates,” Gross pointed out.
Even though she is proud of these positive improvements and accomplishments, Gross said additional resources are needed to provide adequate services for the growing communities.
“There has been an 8% increase in requests for services from county residents this last year - with over 2,100 square miles in the county, and three officers in the field, the response times can be delayed,” Gross said. “The daily challenges for shelter staff include cleaning and feeding hundreds of animals daily, handling dangerous animals, caring for sick and injured animals, educating the public on the importance of spaying and neutering, investigating and prosecuting animal cruelty, interacting with challenging residents, providing emergency services 24/7, and much more.”
Gross said it is her hope that the grand jury report will help residents and community leaders recognize the challenges of the department and show their support by allocating additional resources.
The jury also investigated Madera County Adult Protective Services over a complaint that an elderly cancer patient was abused by an incompetent caregiver, even after the department was alerted to the situation by a hospice worker.
The grand jury, for the most part, was complimentary of the Information Technology Department, the 311 phone system and the Central California Women’s Facility.
Each report can be seen at: madera-county.com/index.php/grand-jury-reports.
2016-17 grand jury sworn in
The Madera County 2016-17 Grand Jury was sworn in by Madera Superior Court Judge Dale J. Blea on July 1. Eastern Madera County is represented with eight members on the 19-member jury.
Two jury members, Steven Wade and Edna Norman, are from Oakhurst, and Coarsegold residents on the jury are Patricia Kjose, Diane Sommers Rodriguez, and Claudia Canudo. One Ahwahnee resident, Heather Kepler, and two North Fork residents, Vernon Tallmon and Shari Stoops are also members of the jury.
The remaining 11 jury members are Janice Gomes, Michael Kime, Barton Kullberg, Cecelia Jones, Leonore Van Seng, Jan Peirsol and Steven Earls of Madera, and Darlene Bennett, James Haze, Carol Mae Lee and Roger McIntyre of Chowchilla.
Holdovers from the 2015-16 jury are Wade, Kjose, Gomes, Kime, Haze, Peirsol and Lee. Peirsol will serve as the the jury foreperson and is looking forward to the year ahead.
“Members of the 2016-17 Madera County Grand Jury will continue to be the ‘watchdogs’ for the citizens of Madera County,” Peirsol said. “I am looking forward to working with this dedicated group of people as we investigate issues related to the operations of county government.”
California’s constitution requires the annual appointment of a grand jury - a group of citizens with the purpose of investigating public complaints and county government, and making recommendations on how to save county taxpayers money.
Written complaints submitted to the grand jury are brought before the jury for review, to determine if an investigation is warranted. All grand jury business is conducted in secret, and all information and discussions are considered highly confidential.
The secrecy is required to protect the innocent accused, encourage disclosures by citizens with with information relevant to an investigation, and to ensure the utmost freedom to jury members in the deliberation process.
Details: Madera County Grand Jury, (559) 662-0946, 2026 N. Granada Drive, Madera, CA, 93637.