It is countdown time, and Delaware County officials are getting a little nervous - again.
On Dec. 31, their six-month extension with the private Delaware County SPCA to take in stray animals from the 49 municipalities will end. The 100-year-old shelter decided last year to become a "no-kill" facility by 2012.
Since July, county officials have located a plot of land, established a nonprofit corporation, and appointed a nine-member board to oversee construction of a new shelter. They also agreed to back the loan needed to build the shelter, which is expected to cost $1.2 million.
Now, county officials worry, there may be another wrinkle.
Those 49 municipalities.
Two weeks ago, a letter was sent out from the animal board to municipalities inviting them to a meeting to discuss the costs and contracts with the new shelter. To be able to operate, the county needs all the municipalities to sign on as clients. Cost are estimated at $250 per stray and will come from local budgets.
The meeting, set for Saturday, may not have the attendance hoped for, said County Councilman Mario J. Civera. About half of the municipalities have agreed to come hear the presentations.
"If we don't get a response by Dec. 16, it could put the whole program in jeopardy," said Civera. "The money [for the new shelter] is just not there to operate."
At the time the SPCA announced it would no longer take in strays, municipalities and county officials lambasted the shelter for abandoning its mission. They were upset at the increase in costs from the SPCA at a time when budgets were set.
But it was clear the shelter wanted out of dealing with animal control. The county negotiated a six-month extension of the deadline.
The state holds municipalities responsible for picking up and holding strays for 48 hours in an approved shelter before the animals can be put up for adoption or destroyed. In 2010, the SPCA took in 4500 stray animals.
Construction began in October on the new Municipal Animal Shelter at the Delaware County Emergency Service Training Center in Darby Township, which is expected to open in late spring.
With the latest SPCA contract about to expire, officials are in negotiation with the Chester County SPCA to take in strays until the new shelter is operating. Another facility, VCA Old Marple Animal Hospital in Springfield Township in Springfield, has also agreed to take in strays on a temporary basis.
Civera is now making calls to the municipalities to urge them to attend. He said he worries that the county, home to an estimated 141,000 dogs and uncounted cats, will have no place to house strays.
"It could come down to a crisis situation and the county just doesn't have a shelter," said Civera.