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FARMINGTON — The long-anticipated Regional Animal Shelter remains a powder-keg issue for the Farmington City Council.

The council approved $75,000 in funding for a crematory at the facility, acknowledged receipt of $650,000 in funding toward the project from San Juan County and renewed an annual animal services contract with the county at its Tuesday evening meeting.

But discussion was punctuated by ongoing concerns from councilors Jason Sandel and Mary Fischer that the project is plagued by mismanagement and that the new facility will not be properly staffed.

Sandel was concerned with the cost increase between the most recent estimate, $4.2 million, and the project's actual cost, $4.6 million.

City Manager Rob Mayes presented a report comparing cost estimates from the project's original planning phase to the actual cost of construction today.

The original cost estimate of $7.7 million, by the firm Animal Arts, was deemed too expensive by the council when proposed in 2008. The city then contracted with two other architectural firms, Rodahl and Hummell, and BDA to see if the shelter could be built for less. The two firms gave estimates of $3.6 million and $4.2 million, respectively.

"Why is the building more expensive than the BDA cost?" Sandel asked.

Julie Baird, the city's general services director, provided context.

"It's not until you put the project out to bid that you can actually come up with something," she said. "It was still within the overall budget that we looked at with BDA. When you put in the contingency and the Pet Project funds for cages..."

The use of more than $500,000 raised by the Pet Project, a community committee formed about five years ago to raise funds for the shelter, was a particular source of frustration for Sandel because the funds are being used on furnishings for labs, offices and upgraded cages.

"I think we continue to show numbers in very deceptive ways," he said. "There's a variety of different shell games. I take objection to the fact that when we knew that this project was over budget, we as a city unilaterally said the Pet Project should pay ... That decision was made without me or anybody else on this council being consulted."

Mayor Tommy Roberts disagreed.

"It was my impression that the Pet Project representatives were very involved in the discussion and actually proposed how the funds were to be used," Roberts said.

Phil Morin, Pet Project chairman, said the group shas worked with council and staff for nearly five years.

"This committee couldn't have had better cooperation and information from (city) administration," Morin said. "Yes, we are paying for upgraded cages."

Councilor Dan Darnell underscored McCulloch's opinion.

"I certainly have no problem and I wouldn't characterize anything here in the accounting as burying the money," he said. "I'm comfortable with the process and I'm comfortable that we've gone the extra mile."

But for Sandel, the city's handling of the Pet Project's money is still unacceptable.

"The city should have redoubled its commitment rather than require you to pay for the nuts and bolts that we should have been responsible for," he said.

Greg Yee covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and gyee@daily-times.com. Follow him @GYeeDT on Twitter.