County weighs where to send strays

Brett Berntsen
Farmington Animal Shelter kennel technicians Shawnee Begaye and Jimmy McKinnon check on a dog named Whazhoni Tuesda at the Farmington Animal Shelter. Whazhoni was recently surrendered to the shelter by a resident of La Plata.

FARMINGTON – As its deadline for crafting a budget for the new fiscal year approaches, San Juan County is re-evaluating its contracts with local animal shelters.

The county currently sends stray or unwanted animals to shelters in both Farmington and Aztec, but commissioners are considering working exclusively with Aztec to save money.

To make their case, officials from Farmington’s shelter gave a presentation at the County Commission meeting on Tuesday. The discussion highlighted recent improvements at the shelter, such as lower euthanasia rates made possible by a new, expanded facility built in 2013.

Such benefits carry a price tag, though — about $516,000 for the county in the next fiscal year.

Farmington has provided discounts for the county to use the new shelter since it opened, but City Manager Rob Mayes said the subsidies can’t continue.

Aztec, meanwhile, has offered to provide services alongside Farmington for $257,000 or enter into an exclusive contract with the county for $400,000, according to County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter.

Josh Ray, Aztec’s city manager, stressed that it’s not a competition between the two shelters. He said the Aztec shelter fully supports Farmington's new facility and even took funding cuts so it could be built.

Farmington Animal Shelter kennel technicians Jimmy McKinnon and Shawnee Begay check on a cat Tuesday at the shelter.

Nevertheless, the lower price looks appealing to the cash-strapped county.

Commissioners expressed reservations Tuesday about maintaining multiple contracts and spending $750,000 on animal control.

“That’s a lot more money than we spend on homeless people or veterans’ programs,” Carpenter said.

Commissioner Jack Fortner said the decision comes down to what sacrifices the county will have to make.

“You don’t cut money out of the budget for people and give it to animals,” Fortner said.

Supporters of Farmington's shelter, however, argued that the investment would prove worthwhile.

The Farmington Regional Animal Shelter is pictured on April 18 in Farmington.

Cory Styron, director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, said that although the new shelter was initially expensive, operating costs have dropped consistently every year. Preventative measures like the low-cost spay and neuter program should lower expenses in the future, as well, he said. Farmington’s shelter also may have more capacity and better methods to deal with the nearly 3,000 animals brought in from the county each year, Styron said.

The shelter has 11 full-time employees and a euthanasia rate of 28 percent, he said. Aztec's shelter has six full-time employees and a 48-percent euthanasia rate, according to Ray.

Additionally, representatives at the meeting pointed out that the county helped pay for Farmington's new shelter, and it would seem strange not to use it.

“What are we going to do when a county resident come in with their dog?” Mayes said. “Are we going to say, ‘Sorry, go talk to your commissioner?’”

The county and the shelter have made great progress together recently, Mayes said, it would be a shame to end the partnership just as trends are finally headed in the right direction.

The county's animal shelter contracts expire on June 30. Carpenter said commissioners plan to make a decision well before the deadline.

Brett Berntsen covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606.