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FARMINGTON — Nearly a year after Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye told San Juan County Commission that the tribe would take over management of three fire stations located on tribal lands, tribal firefighters are assuming jurisdiction Tuesday.

Begaye announced the tribe's interest in managing the fire stations after County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter asked Navajo Nation to pay a portion of the costs to operate the Shiprock, Ojo Amarillo and Newcomb fire stations. The county was facing declining revenue, in large part due to the extended slump in oil and gas prices on the commodities market.

"We are handing them over a call-ready station," Carpenter said about the three stations.

He said the stations will have everything the firefighters need to respond to calls.

The transition was initially planned to be completed within six months, however the tribe asked for an extension in March to allow time to hire and train full-time firefighters. The Navajo Nation agreed to pay the county $67,000 a month starting in April until the transfer could take place.

Carpenter said the county has not received two payments from Navajo Nation. He said the county is confident it will receive the money, citing a reallocation bill that transferred money from the tribe's Department of Fire and Rescue Services' personnel and fringe benefits account to the department's operations account. A portion of the $417,737 that the bill transferred to the operations account also will be used to pay for the three fire stations.

Mihio Manus, a spokesman for Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President, did not return several phone messages seeking comment.

While the Navajo Nation will have jurisdiction over those areas, the San Juan County Fire Department has agreed to provide aid to the areas if requested by the Navajo Nation Fire Department. San Juan County commissioners approved the mutual aid agreement last month after setting a date for the transfer. 

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.

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