Tax revenue ready for distribution to chapters

Noel Lyn Smith

SHIPROCK – More than a year after a 2-percent sales tax was placed on "junk food" purchased from retail locations on the Navajo Nation, chapters are learning the steps they need to take to use the tax revenue.

Personnel from Northern Agency chapters were among those who attended a work session today to learn how communities can use the money to develop projects targeting fitness and health.

Denisa Livingston, a community health advocate with the Diné Community Advocacy Alliance, said it is time for chapters to bring projects to reality.

Denisa Livingston of the Diné Community Advocacy Alliance speaks on Friday at the Shiprock Youth Complex. Officials are explaining to chapter members how to use revenue from the tribe's "junk food" tax.

"We want to restore the health and wellness of our people, that's the ultimate goal," Livingston said.

Projects that can be funded include fitness classes, wellness workshops, exercise equipment, playgrounds, basketball and volleyball courts, baseball and softball fields, and recreational clubs.

"Some of the youth said, 'Oh my basketball goal is as old as my grandma,' because it's not maintained. They see the need for more maintenance and more things to address our community parks," Livingston said.

The Office of the Navajo Tax Commission reported $334,083 in sales tax revenue was collected in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2015. The tribe's fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.

The sales tax revenue so far in fiscal year 2016 is $1.4 million, according to the tax office.

The fund management plan for the sales tax mandates 50 percent of the revenue be equally distributed among the 110 chapters. The remaining half is divided based on the number of registered voters within each chapter.

Caroline Davis with the Division of Community Development's Administrative Service Centers, which oversees the disbursement, told chapter personnel the revenue collected from fiscal year 2015 will be distributed before Oct. 1.

The distribution for fiscal year 2016 would happen after November, Davis said.

Chapter personnel also learned that businesses self-report sales tax revenue and unhealthy food purchased using an Electronic Benefit Transfer card, food stamps or Women, Infants and Children vouchers are tax exempt.

Larieta Tso, senior tax compliance officer with the tax commission office, said consumers can help the office by reporting stores that apply the 2-percent unhealthy food sales tax or the 5-percent sales tax on healthy foods.

Larieta Tso of the Office of the Navajo Tax Commission attends a meeting on Friday at the Shiprock Youth Complex where officials explained how revenue from the tribe's "junk food" tax can be used.

Fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, nut butters, seeds, water and special ethnic foods are not subject to the taxes, according to tribal law.

If consumers want to file a report, they can contact the tax commission office, Tso said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-546-4636.