Navajo president OKs using $2.45 million in funds

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FARMINGTON — Supplemental funding for stipends and other expenses for members of district grazing committees, farm boards and the Eastern Navajo Land Board received approval from the tribal president this week.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye signed a resolution on Sunday that authorized using $2.45 million in supplemental funding from the Unreserved Undesignated Fund Balance, a press release from his office states.

The amount will be divided into $1.7 million for district grazing committees, $482,992 for the Eastern Navajo Land Board and $257,051 for farm boards.

The money will be administered by the Division of Natural Resources and will help compensate officials for mileage, meeting attendance, supplies, enforcement of regulations and other related expenses.

There are 78 grazing committee members, 43 farm board members and 20 members on the Eastern Navajo Land Board, according the tribe's Department of Agriculture.

Department director Leo Watchman said the supplemental funding was needed to help officials fulfill their responsibilities.

In the case of grazing committee members, when fiscal year 2018 started on Oct. 1, the budget only covered their attendance for monthly district and agency meetings, Watchman said.

He added while there were questions about the officials receiving payments for their service, stipends are the only source of income for up to 90 percent of the officials.

"This funding will help close that gap," Watchman said.

Begaye mentioned that source of income for officials in the press release from his office.

"Some of these officials have additional employment, but others don't. The stipends will help these individuals manage their responsibilities as farm, grazing and land officials, while receiving better compensation for their work," he said.

During the Dec. 22 special session for the Navajo Nation Council, a directive was issued to the Office of the Controller and the Office of Management and Budget to issue retroactive pay for the officials from the start of the fiscal year. The offices also were directed to expedite the process for payments.

Watchman mentioned the retroactive payments and how it is part of the challenge to address disbursement.

In September, Begaye used his line-item veto authority to deny carryovers from fiscal year 2017 for the three entities but stated in his veto message he would support legislation using the Unreserved Undesignated Fund Balance.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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