County: Nation hasn't fully funded stations

County and Nation officials say homeowners insurance could rise if the tribe doesn't continue to operate the fire stations at the same level

Dan Schwartz
Firefighters Leighann Nez and Derrick Woody collect their gear on Thursday at San Juan County District 12 Fire Department in Shiprock as they prepare to respond to an emergency call.

FARMINGTON — Some officials say they are worried that homeowners insurance could rise in areas of the Navajo Nation when the tribe takes over three fire stations that have been operated by the county because there isn't enough money allocated in the tribe's fiscal year 2016 budget to continue operating them at the same level.

The county has been running the fire stations in Shiprock, Newcomb and Ojo Amarillo since the 1990s, but can’t afford to continue without more funding. Officials have cut more than $50 million from the county's annual budget since 2009, even as service calls to the three stations are rising.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye told county commissioners earlier this month that the tribe will begin operating the stations this year, and he said in the meeting that the tribe included about $810,000 in the Nation's Comprehensive Fiscal Year 2016 Budget.

Firefighter Derrick Woody talks about the various high angle rescue gear that is stored in their brush truck on Thursday at the San Juan County District 12 Fire Department in Shiprock.

San Juan County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said running the stations cost the county about $1.3 million annually. And that expense doesn’t include administrative costs, he said.

“There’s going to be a heck of a lot more money that is going to be required,” he said.

An examination of the budget by The Daily Times did not reveal a specific budget line for the fire station funding. Sources contacted for this story also were unaware of a specific budget line for the funding.

Officials in Begaye’s office said the fire stations will be funded.

“I believe at this point in time the tribe has assessed how much it will cost to run the three fire stations,” the office’s spokesman, Mihio Manus, said. “And I believe the tribe has adequately approved those funds for the fire departments.”

Manus said the funding Begaye announced is not exclusively for running the three fire stations. He would not say whether officials would consider adjusting the budget to include more fire station funding.

Dominic Beyal, executive director of the office of management and budget, said he is not aware of any documents that passed through his office to adjust the budget that include funding specifically for the stations.

One of Carpenter's concerns is that homeowners insurance will become more expensive for residents near the stations if the tribe doesn't provide the same level of service.

Shiprock Chapter President Duane “Chili” Yazzie said he was never told about the details of the plan to take over the stations, so he can’t comment about whether the tribe has allocated enough money.

He said he is concerned the tribe is taking over the stations too quickly. If it can’t provide the same level of service, he also worries homeowners insurance may become more expensive for his constituents, he said.

Firefighter Derrick Woody shows some of the extraction tools stored in their department's brush truck on Thursday at San Juan County District 12 Fire Department in Shiprock.

“It’s a very serious and sensitive business,” he said.

San Juan County Commissioner Wallace Charley, who represents many residents on the reservation, has said he is concerned the tribe won't provide the same level of service.

But Newcomb Chapter President David Randolph Sr. said he is happy with Begaye’s decision to take over the stations. He said he believes the tribe has allocated enough money to run the stations, but he understands Yazzie’s concerns because his chapter has more people.

“I really can’t say how this thing’s going to go,” Randolph said, “until we take ownership and start running the show.”

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