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AZTEC — The San Juan County Commission today voted to continue sending most of its stray animals to the Farmington Regional Animal Shelter, ending a controversial discussion that created tension between the city and the county.

"This benefits everybody," County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said in a phone interview before the meeting.

Commissioners approved a $413,000 contract to use the shelter as the county’s primary animal control service provider for the next fiscal year.

The county also sends strays to the animal shelter in Aztec, and during budget talks this spring, commissioners considered contracting solely with the Aztec shelter to save money. The suggestion sparked public outcry, however, as community members raised concerns that Aztec's facilities could not handle the extra animals.

Farmington’s shelter underwent a $4.6 million renovation in 2013, and the city has since offered the county a discount to use its services. But this year, Farmington officials said they could no longer support that subsidy and asked the county to contribute $516,000 toward operations.

Meanwhile, Aztec offered to become the county's primary provider for $440,000 or continue operating alongside Farmington for about $260,000.

The choice was enticing to commissioners, who expressed reservations about spending three-fourths of a million dollars on animal control.

Commissioner Scott Eckstein voted to approve the contract with the Farmington shelter. But after the vote, he said he believes a contract with only the Aztec shelter would have saved the county money and provided "just as good of service."

In the upcoming fiscal year, the county will continue to contract with Aztec's shelter for $260,000.

After several negotiations, Farmington and San Juan County officials agreed on a 20 percent discount for the next fiscal year, rather than the 40 percent subsidy granted in previous years.

"The city did a good job of reducing some of the rates so that there wasn't so much sticker shock up front," Carpenter said.

Carpenter said he supports the contract, but has concerns about the consistently rising costs of animal services.

"It's the single biggest inflationary cost for local governments," he said.

Supporters of Farmington's shelter have argued using the modern facility and its low-cost spay and neuter programs could help reduce costs in the future.

The shelter's director, Stacie Voss, said a partnership with the county also makes it more convenient for people to bring in stray animals from areas west of Farmington or on the Navajo Nation.

"It's not either the city or the county's problem," Voss said. "It's needs to be a community effort."

Voss said she's pleased with the county's ultimate decision, but was disappointed by the tone the negotiations took.

"It almost ended up in a bidding war between the shelters," Voss said. "That wasn’t very much fun."

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

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