City Council OKs agreement for sobering center

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington City Council

FARMINGTON – The City Council approved an intergovernmental agreement Tuesday night to provide temporary shelter for those experiencing public intoxication and provide voluntary recovery services for substance abuse.

The agreement is for two years and is between the city, San Juan County, the San Juan Regional Medical Center and Presbyterian Medical Services for a sobering center and joint intervention program.

Those services would operate in two modular buildings the county is constructing next to the Totah Behavioral Health Authority off N.M. Highway 371.

In December, San Juan County commissioners unanimously approved a draft intergovernmental agreement for the services. San Juan County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said Tuesday both buildings are on schedule to open in March. Work has been completed on the building that will house the sobering center, and the building that would hold the joint intervention program is under construction, Carpenter said.

Under the agreement, the city of Farmington is responsible for 47 percent of the annual costs and will pay $775,563 each year to the San Juan Regional Medical Center for the services.

Assistant City Manager Bob Campbell said in an interview before Tuesday’s regular council meeting the city allocated $475,563 from its general fund and will use a $300,000 grant from the state to cover the cost.

During the meeting, Campbell told the council the cost is about $200,000 more than the amount paid to Four Winds Recovery Center for similar services. Although the cost is higher, it allows for more individuals to receive the services, he said.

Once open, the sobering house can accommodate up to 40 individuals each day, and the number of participants in the joint intervention program will increase from 10 to 40 clients.

“It’s a new way forward, we hope, in changing the way that we’re conducting business with our inebriates,” Campbell said.

Councilor Mary Fischer was the only councilor to oppose the agreement and noted the agreement lacks protective custody detox services.

“Those people were off the streets for up to three days, and now it’s going to be a revolving door,” she said.

Since protective custody detox services are unavailable, she asked whether the city considered the cost of detaining individuals in jail rather than the sobering house if they are combative toward the staff.

“Because they’re going to have to go somewhere if they’re combative or something. So we’re going to pay for them at the sobering house and then pay for them in jail,” Fischer said.

She added, “While I appreciate new eyes on an old problem, I think this has disaster written all over it.”

City Manager Rob Mayes said there will be some challenges when the services start.

“It wasn’t a question whether we have protective custody or not, there is no one willing to do protective custody. There’s no agency willing to do it,” Mayes said.

In other business, councilors unanimously approved issuing a beer and wine license for 505 Burgers and Wings restaurant at 820 N. Sullivan Ave. That is a new license for the restaurant, which opened in fall 2014. A public hearing about the liquor license was held on Dec. 16, 2015, and received no public participation, according to city documents.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.