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AZTEC — Navajo Nation officials have asked San Juan County to continue operating fire stations in Shiprock, Newcomb and Ojo Amarillo until September.

Operation of the stations was slated to be transferred to the Navajo Nation on April 1, but the tribe has not yet filled the 15 positions needed to staff the three stations.

The county has operated fire stations in Shiprock, Newcomb and Ojo Amarillo since the 1990s, but officials say that's no longer possible because of a decline in revenue and funding, according to Daily Times archives.

"We thought that the best that we could do is ask for an extension," Arbin Mitchell, chief of staff for the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President, told commissioners during a county commission meeting Tuesday evening.

Mitchell said the tribe has only found two or three people so far to staff the stations.

"We're working on it, but we just need more time," said Jesse Delmar, the Navajo Nation public safety director.

Delmar said Navajo Nation officials decided that if they were going to take over management of the fire stations, they would do it right.

"We want the citizens in San Juan County to be protected," Delmar said.

The Navajo Nation and San Juan County are working on determining a rate the tribe would pay the county for continued operation of the stations. The county and the tribe are negotiating the details of a memorandum that would outline how the county would be paid for services. The county commission will likely discuss an agreement with the tribe concerning the fire stations at its March 15 meeting.

"We're obviously in a pinch," said Kim Carpenter, the County Executive Officer.

He said the county did not budget for operating the stations after April 1.

Commissioner Wallace Charley cited resolutions by the Shiprock Chapter opposing the transfer.

"They're completely opposing the Navajo Nation taking over the three fire stations," he said. "Maybe you need to reconsider also."

After the meeting, Delmar said the request for the tribe to take over the fire stations came from the county.

In December 2014, Carpenter sent Navajo Nation officials a letter saying the tribe could take over the stations or the county could continue to run them if the tribe paid it about $810,000 annually for operations, equipment and staffing, according to Daily Times archives.

"We're confident that we can run the services," Delmar said.

Larry Chee, the Navajo Nation fire chief, declined to comment when reached Tuesday afternoon.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.

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