AZTEC — San Juan County will increase its annual payment for operating costs at the Farmington Animal Shelter by more than $100,000 in the next fiscal year.
The move comes as operating costs at the animal shelter have surged in light of the city's efforts to better care for the animals, as well as the shelter's upcoming move into a larger facility.
County commissioners voted Tuesday night to contribute $350,000 to the shelter during the 2013-14 fiscal year, which starts in July. That's a more than 30 percent increase from the $264,000 the county is expected to spend on operating costs at the shelter this fiscal year.
The county contracts with the cities of Aztec and Farmington each year for the two city-run shelters to take in cats and dogs from unincorporated parts of San Juan County. The county is projected to pay Aztec $255,000 for animal-shelter services in the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
The main reason for the increase in costs at the animal shelter in Farmington is due to a change in philosophy to keep more of the dogs and cats at the shelter alive and find permanent homes for them, said Cory Styron, the director of the Farmington Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department.
The shelter's operating cost are expected to increase from $1.1 million this year to $1.4 million in the upcoming fiscal year, he said.
In past years, animals at the Farmington Animal Shelter were euthanized if they were not placed in homes within about 10 to 15 days, Styron said.
That policy no longer exists. The shelter is keeping animals longer in hopes of finding them permanent homes, and it is also sending animals to rescues in surrounding states, he said. Both changes are leading to rising costs.
The shelter also recently hired six, full-time kennel technicians, Styron said.
Construction is under way on the new Farmington Regional Animal Shelter at 133 Browning Parkway. The new shelter will replace the Farmington Animal Shelter at 1395 S. Lake St.
Styron said the projected cost of the new facility is $4.6 million. It is expected to open in October.
The new shelter will be able to house 284 animals, compared to 83 animals at the current shelter. It will also have more expensive utility bills, Styron said.
"The people we're talking to are in favor of the change in philosophy and are excited for the new shelter to open so we can fully implement our new game plan," he said.
Commissioners unanimously agreed to the fee increase but raised concerns about future increases in cost at the shelter.
Commissioner Keith Johns asked county staff to study the feasibility of the county operating its own shelter in the future because of the recent increase in operating costs.
"What if costs keep going up?" he said. "It's been a 100 percent increase since 2009 and a 34 percent increase in the last year. At what point do we need our own shelter?"
In 2009, the county paid $163,000 to the Farmington Animal Shelter, said County Operations Officer Mike Stark.
Stark said the number of cats and dogs from unincorporated areas that end up at shelters has been about 8,600 per year for several years.
In the 2012-13 fiscal year, which was the most recent data available, 4,153 animals from unincorporated parts of San Juan County ended up at the Aztec Animal Shelter and 4,468 animals ended up at the Farmington Animal Shelter, according to county documents. That was about 57 percent of all animals that ended up at a shelter in San Juan County.
Those numbers include animals from on and off of the Navajo Nation and animals taken to the shelters by residents and by animal control officers.