FARMINGTON — The Farmington Regional Animal Shelter won't spay or neuter animals from the community until its clinic is staffed with a full-time veterinarian, said Cory Styron, Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs director.

In the meantime, the shelter will spay and neuter "adoptable" animals within its walls, he said.

The city found four finalists for the veterinarian position, but it won't decide which candidate to hire until January, he said.

Styron would not release the candidate's names or credentials.

At the new shelter, which opened Dec. 6, the city hopes to spay or neuter 1,500 to 2,000 animals a year. It is an effort to quell dog and cat overpopulation, a common problem at the old shelter, which, at times, teemed with almost 200 animals. Its maximum was 146.

To reach its objective, the city will hire, in addition to the full-time veterinarian, 20 other staff, 11 of whom will be part-time. The veterinarian will receive a $70,000 salary and $20,300 in staff benefits, according to Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs documents.

The city also approved in October a low- to no-cost spay and neuter pay schedule. Some officials, though, disagree with the formula used to calculate the surgery fees.

The shelter uses an income-based sliding scale to calculate the fees. The four fee categories are $85, $60, $30 and no-cost. A pet owner who earns more than $50,000 a year after taxes will pay the highest fee to spay or neuter a dog or cat. The surgery will be free to a pet owner who earns less than $20,000.

But City Councilor Mary Fischer is concerned the income range is too generous.

"When we're using tax-payer money we have to be very, very careful that we're advocating the needs of the needy, not the freeloader," she said.

Fischer prefers a narrower sliding scale -- using a top limit of $40,000 and a lower limit of $23,000 -- because she worries some would take advantage of the current structure.

"I have no desire to have somebody drive up in a Mercedes and drop off their dog, and then pick it up again," she said.

But Leslie Jedrey, a member of the Humane Society of the Four Corners, said although a person may make $60,000 annually does not mean they are wealthy. She said that person may have a large family and high expenses.

Aztec Animal Shelter Director Tina Roper said Farmington's shelter fees are appropriate. "I think they have it set up really nice," she said.

The average cost for the surgery at a San Juan County veterinary hospital is $163, according to a list of prices the Humane Society of the Four Corners provided The Daily Times. Aztec's shelter charges $75 a dog and $55 a cat, Roper said.

Styron said Farmington's shelter doesn't intend to profit from its established surgery fees. "We consider this a community service," he said.

Two new ordinances that could affect the shelter's spay and neuter policies are planned, though neither are drafted yet.

One ordinance would limit the veterinarian services the shelter provides, ensuring it doesn't compete with area veterinarians, Styron said.

The other ordinance would "highly encourage" pet owners to pay or neuter their animals, he said. As an example, he said that if Farmington required annual pet licensing, owners could spay or neuter their pets for $5 if they are licensed, or pay $100 for unlicensed animals.

Whatever the legislation, Fischer said, the city needs to find a way to euthanize fewer dogs and cats. The old shelter euthanized about half its captured animals, Styron has said.

"It's so sad," Fischer said. "Those animals deserve a better break than that."

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and Follow him @Dan_J_Schwartz on Twitter.