AZTEC — The San Juan County Commission on Tuesday declined to vote on a request from the Shiprock Chapter to serve as the chapter's fiscal agent for $1 million the chapter hoped to receive in state funds to build a fire and communications center in south Shiprock.
San Juan County Commission Chairman Jack Fortner said the county should wait to see if it can impose an administrative fee on the chapter before it agrees to serve as fiscal agent for the project.
"I would prefer we not vote on it until we see the bill and see what our requirements are and if we can charge," Fortner said at Tuesday's commission meeting.
San Juan County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said the county has historically not charged administrative fees when it serves as a fiscal agent for the Navajo Nation or other agencies. The county serves as fiscal agent for outside agencies when the county receives state funds that are earmarked for projects for those agencies.
The county will face financial challenges from the sale of Navajo Mine and the reduction in production of the coal-fired power plants in the county, Carpenter said. And, he added, the county will likely have to change the tradition of serving as fiscal agent without imposing fees. When the county serves as fiscal agent, county employees spend time sending out and evaluating proposals from contractors, which costs taxpayers money, he said.
"Gone are the days of free service," Carpenter said.
Shiprock Chapter President Duane "Chili" Yazzie said in a phone interview Tuesday night that Shiprock officials requested the county serve as fiscal agent for the fire and communications center because the facility would house San Juan County firefighters.
"In that regard, it's a different situation in what might be normal circumstances surrounding other Navajo projects," he said. "It sounds like the county grouped us in with regular tribal projects, and that shouldn't have been the case."
Either way, the county's decision to table the chapter's request on Tuesday isn't an issue, Yazzie said. He said the Shiprock Chapter learned Tuesday it won't receive the $1 million in state funds it was requesting the county serve as fiscal agent over.
He said the chapter is moving forward with the project but hopes to find another funding source.
To continue not charging administrative fees and providing other services on the Navajo Nation — such as transfer stations and funds for senior centers — Fortner said the county will send a letter to tribal officials asking to keep the Navajo Mine on the county's tax rolls or requesting the Nation offer the county a payment in lieu of taxes.
"Will you continue leaving (Navajo Mine) on the tax rolls so we can continue our symbiotic relationship?" Fortner said of the letter. "If that happens, then everything will continue to happen as is. If it doesn't, we have to figure out how we are going to make up for lost income. We have to look at what benefits we give (the Navajo Nation), and we have to see if we can cut those benefits."
The county collects about $730,000 in property taxes from Navajo Mine each year. That tax collection will cease with the sale of the mine to the tribe, Carpenter said.
No Shiprock chapter officials attended Tuesday's commission meeting.
Yazzie said he didn't have enough information to comment on the letter Fortner described at the meeting.
Fortner said the county hopes to negotiate with the tribe to find a way to offset the loss of property taxes from Navajo Mine.
"The Navajo Nation is a very good neighbor to Farmington and San Juan County," he said. "Anything they would propose back is something we would have to look at seriously."Ryan Boetel covers crime for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel on Twitter.