Chapter officials facing budget shortfall

Noel Lyn Smith

LOWER FRUITLAND — Under the proposed fiscal year 2017 budget for the Navajo Nation, chapter governments are facing a $1.3 million decrease for chapter official stipends and chapter personnel salaries.

Red Valley Chapter President Lee J. Zhonnie counts a show of hands during a vote on Wednesday at the San Juan Chapter house.

Carl Smith, executive director for the Division of Community Development, explained the shortfall in a report to the Northern Navajo Agency Council today at the San Juan Chapter house.

Chapter officials also heard about a possible solution to cover the reduction from the Budget and Finance Committee chairman. The agency council is comprised of chapters located within the boundaries of the Northern Agency.

Smith did not state how much the total proposed budget for chapters would be during the meeting.

In an interview after Smith's report, he confirmed $13.7 million is being recommended for the chapters' operational costs, which includes stipends and salaries, and the amount is divided among the 110 chapters. Smith said in his report the budget cut is not being recommended by the division but by a recommendation from the tribal president’s office.

Since the amount is preliminary, there is time to find a solution before the new fiscal year starts on Oct. 1, he said. Overall, the tribe is facing a smaller budget due to declining revenue from coal, oil and gas production, Smith added. He advised chapter officials to think about the future, as well as reducing the number of officials and the number of monthly meetings.

Chapter governments have presidents, vice presidents and secretary/treasurers who meet at least twice each month.

Carl Smith, the executive director of the Navajo Nation Division of Community Development, speaks on Wednesday during a meeting at the San Juan Chapter house.

Chapter officials receive stipends of $500 for planning meetings and $500 for regular meetings. They can also receive $500 for each special meeting and agency meeting.

Some chapter officials criticized the structure of the services managed by the division. Among those who spoke was Red Mesa Chapter President Herman Farley.

With budget shortages, it is time for the central government to review its programs and services because it is "top heavy," Farley said. He noted that some departments offer duplicated services while other services could be offered at the local level.

Tsé Daa K’aan Chapter Vice President Charlie Jones Jr. said chapters continue to be the first line of service for residents.

Jones added that officials hear the local concerns and issues, then share that information with council delegates, but they are the first to be hit with budget cuts.

Delegate Seth Damon, who serves as chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee, arrived two hours to the meeting while traveling from Window Rock, Ariz. He said in his report an option to cover the $1.3 million is taking money from fixed-cost programs.

Under that proposal, the Navajo Nation Council could propose using $100,000 from telecommunications, $100,000 from the retirement plan, $300,000 from fixed-cost litigation, $400,000 from chapter infrastructure and $400,000 from investment fees to cover the amount.

Like Smith, Damon told chapter officials the budget process is in the early stage, so there is time to address the shortfall.

He added the tribal council has not seen a proposed budget from the Division of Community Development.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.