Back in October, Delaware County dignitaries, with their ceremonial spades in hand, gathered in Darby Township for a groundbreaking at the site of the Municipal Animal Shelter.

As it turns out, those were the only shovels that turned up dirt there.

Plans to build a state-of-the-art shelter have been scrapped after the expected costs nearly doubled and the county declined to back a bond to finance construction.

"We can't spend $2 million," said County Councilman Mario Civera, referring to the latest estimates.

The need for a shelter arose in 2010 when the privately run Delaware County SPCA announced it would no longer accept stray animals from the 49 municipalities and would become a no-kill facility this January.

Officials negotiated a short-term arrangement with the Chester County SPCA to house strays until the end of June. Now they hope to extend that deal for five more years.

"Without a long-term deal, we will be in a crisis mode." said Thomas J. Judge Jr., president of the newly created Animal Protection Board.

The Delaware County SPCA's announcement in 2010 triggered a battle pitting the 101-year-old nonprofit against the municipalities, which are responsible for animal control.

For years, many boroughs and townships treated the shelter's service much like writing a check for trash control. They did little to help address the causes of stray populations. The Media-based shelter wanted to focus on adoptions and educational programs. It still accepts pets turned in by owners.

The groups were at an impasse until Civera helped negotiate a six-month extension to the June 2011 deadline the SPCA set for ending municipal contracts. As part of the plan, the county established a nonprofit corporation to handle animal control and appointed a nine-member Animal Protection Board to help get a new shelter up and running by that October.

The proposed shelter, off Calcon Hook Road, would have held about 55 dogs and 128 cats. Unexpected costs for special flooring and ventilation were astronomical, Civera said.

The board said it would be unable to go forward unless most of the municipalities agreed to participate and share the expenses. Eventually all but three — Millbourne and Rutledge Boroughs, and Radnor Township — agreed.

Currently, the county fronts the board $30,000 a month to cover the cost of housing strays at the Chester County SPCA. The board then bills the municipalities to recoup the fee.

It is now the Animal Protection Board taking issue with the municipalities.

"Part of the problem is the apathy of the municipalities," said Joe Daly, Springfield Township police chief and board member. "They don't see the crisis coming."

Through the end of May, 552 stray animals — 258 dogs and 294 cats — picked up in Delaware County had been taken to the Chester County SPCA.

While the board has collected $110,000 from municipalities earmarked to reimburse the county, some have not paid. Judge declined to name those municipalities.

Contact Mari A. Schaefer at 610-892-9149, or on Twitter @marischaefer.