County officials to discuss fire stations

Dan Schwartz
Volunteer firefighter Wilbert Atene checks his gear at District 12, Shiprock Station 1.

FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye is scheduled to appear before the San Juan County Commission on Wednesday to discuss the possibility of taking over three fire stations on the reservation.

Nation officials have indicated the tribe will take over operations at the stations.

The county has operated the fire stations in Shiprock, Newcomb and Ojo Amarillo since the 1990s, but can’t afford to continue without additional funding. The county has cut more than $50 million from its annual budget since 2009, and calls for service from the stations have risen.

In December 2014, County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter outlined three options in a letter to the Navajo Nation. The county could close the fire stations. It could continue to run the stations if the tribe contributes about $810,000 annually to cover operation, equipment and staffing costs. Or the tribe could take over operation of the stations.

The tribe has indicated to the county that it will chose the third option. “The Navajo Nation is moving forward with transition planning with the ultimate goal being to operate those fire stations, by next year,” Vice President Jonathan Nez said in a Sept. 17 letter to the county.

But some officials are worried the tribe won’t provide the same level of service as the county. Mihio Manus, the president’s spokesman, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Volunteer firefighter Lisa Vecenti checks out her new gear at District 12, Shiprock Station 1.

County Fire Chief Craig Daugherty​ said the tribe’s fire department is an “unknown.” The county would continue to operate the stations if it didn’t need to save money, he said.

County Commissioner Wallace Charley, who represents many reservation residents, said he wishes the tribe would make the annual payments to the county. That way the county could continue operating the three fire stations. He said he has concerns the tribe won’t maintain the fire trucks.

“All the Navajo Nation needs to spend in $810,000,” he said. “The county would be responsible for the rest.”

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