Selma OKs animal service positions despite pushback

City council narrowly approves new positions for Selma’s animal control services despite council, resident objections; disagreement over city’s animal services decisions continues

Selma City Hall located at 1710 Tucker St., Selma, CA. (Kenny Goodman)
Selma City Hall located at 1710 Tucker St., Selma, CA. (Kenny Goodman)
Serena Bettis
Published February 23, 2024  • 
11:00 am

SELMA – The debate between Selma City Council members over animal control services in the city continued at the most recent council meeting as the city requested approval of new staff positions. 

The city council narrowly approved the job descriptions and salary ranges for an animal services director and technician at the meeting on Feb. 20 by a 3-2 vote. Mayor Scott Robertson and Councilmember Sarah Guerra voted against the item and said they disagreed with how city staff came up with the salary ranges for the animal services positions, which they believe are too high. 

“I have a real big problem seeing how much we’re gonna pay an animal services director when we don’t even start our lateral police officers or our sergeants at this pay, and our officers have to go through an intense academy … (and) they put their lives on the line for our community everyday,” Guerra said. 

Administrative Services Director Janie Venegas said that because there are not similar positions at any of the cities that Selma typically uses as comparisons, the city looked to the Bay Area for an idea of a salary range for the animal services director and technician. They then took that number and adjusted it to reflect the lower cost of living found in Selma. 

According to the staff report, the salary range for the animal services director will be between $8,271 and $10,053 monthly, or approximately $99,000 to $120,600 annually, and the range for the technician will be between $3,729 and $4,533 monthly, or approximately $44,000 to $54,000 annually.

“That’s a lot of money; our fire captain doesn’t even start at this pay,” Guerra said, regarding the director position. “I have a hard time agreeing with this, and I think our community should have a hard time agreeing with this, and so should our council.” 

A lateral police officer salary ranges from $65,000 to $84,000 annually, according to an open job posting from the city, and the fire captain pay ranges from $84,000 to $108,000 annually, according to the city’s master salary schedule. 

Also included in the item was a new position for an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) supervisor, which no one objected to during the discussion. 

Residents who spoke on the item said it was “ridiculous” to get the salary ranges from the Bay Area, even if they were adjusted for cost of living. Public comments questioned where the money was coming from and how the city could justify the salaries. 

“If you expect us to be OK with this kind of salary, I don’t know what you guys are thinking; I honestly don’t,” Selma resident Yolanda Torrez said. “We have so much other stuff that we could be doing in our community and we need funding for, … so I’m just asking you guys to reconsider and to put a hold on this, and look into this a little further.” 

Parveen Sandhu, president of Second Chance Animal Shelter, said it was concerning that the city was looking at adding such high-level management positions while decreasing the amount of services provided by the shelter. When Second Chance was operating the city shelter, they were open every day, but the shelter is now closed on Sundays. 

“Many of the surrounding communities don’t even have these positions, such as animal services director,” Sandhu said. “So if they don’t have them, what’s the need?”

City Manager Fernando Santillan clarified that the salary ranges recommended were not the actual salaries being paid in the Bay Area cities that were looked at; staff utilized the widely-used Forbes Cost of Living Calculator to make the salaries comparable for the city’s size.

The money for the positions is coming out of the general fund, Santillan said, and the additional cost for the positions was added to the city’s mid-year budget amendment request that was also approved by the council at the same meeting. 

The individuals currently working for the city’s animal services department were hired on a temporary basis, and the approved positions will be posted to the city’s website for people to apply to. 

Ongoing animal services debate

Over the last few months, the city has been working to set up its own animal control services housed under the authority of the police department after parting ways with nonprofit Second Chance Animal Shelter in December 2023. 

Selma first started working with Second Chance in 2013 after residents called for more humane treatment of strays that were being handled by police officers untrained in animal rescue or control. 

The city opted not to renew the contract when it expired at the end of 2023, with city staff and some council members citing poor conditions at the shelter and disorganized finances as reasons they did not want to continue the partnership. 

Many residents, along with Robertson and Guerra, were unhappy with this decision and have called it a personal attack against the nonprofit.

At the Feb. 20 meeting, residents said the city has not lived up to its promises for providing better animal services, nor has it addressed other questions that residents have consistently brought up at council meetings since the beginning of the year. 

When the city council voted to not renew the contract with Second Chance in December 2023, the city first said it would be temporarily contracting with Fresno Humane Animal Services to take over the city-owned shelter; that did not happen. 

City staff in January said they could not comment yet on what happened, but they have not said anything since then about when they can comment, despite questions from residents at each council meeting. 

Additionally, Santillan said that there would be an assessment of the shelter’s condition that would be reported to the council after the city took back over the shelter, but the assessment has not been provided either. 

Residents have also voiced concern over the animal shelter’s reduced hours, lack of a website and that it has started taking in animals from other cities. 

In response, Santillan said the city is working on contracts with neighboring cities for use of Selma’s animal shelter, which can help offset the shelter’s operating costs. The animals from other cities, such as Kingsburg, that have been at Selma’s shelter were brought to the shelter by employees of that city.

Santillan also emphasized that the city is trying to look at the bigger picture of what its animal services department could eventually look like, with quality service and costs that are offset by contracts for providing service to neighboring cities.

“There’s a longer-term picture here about how we can build this organization, which is the animal services department,” Santillan said. “We can’t take a narrow look and a narrow approach to say, ‘OK, we have to match dollar for dollar what Second Chance Animal Shelter was providing in terms of services and how much they were spending’.”

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter