Chapters updated on state budget shortfall

Noel Lyn Smith

FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation chapter government officials and personnel listened to information about the state's budget shortfall in a meeting today in San Juan College’s Henderson Fine Arts Center.

Ralph Atcitty, a representative of the Shiprock Youth Home, tells state lawmakers the facility needs state funding to complete its design phase on Tuesday during a meeting at San Juan College in Farmington.

State Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, R-Kirtland, organized the meeting for chapter government representatives to hear information about the state's budget issues and their potential impact on chapters.

The state is facing a shortfall of $400 million to $1 billion, and lawmakers are preparing for a special session this month that would provide a clearer idea about the budget forecast, Clahchischilliage said.

Officials and personnel traveled from chapter areas in the Northern and Eastern agencies, as well as from chapters on the New Mexico side of the Fort Defiance Agency.

In addition, representatives from the city of Farmington and San Juan County shared information about how they are addressing budget woes.

Roselyn John, the community services coordinator for the Chichiltah Chapter, asked whether chapters would submit requests for capital outlay projects in December, as they normally do, since questions remain about the state budget.

State Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, listens as Navajo Nation chapter officials and personnel talk about the impact potential state budget cuts might have on their projects during a meeting Tuesday at San Juan College in Farmington.

Chapter governments use capital outlay funds to pay for projects such as home improvements, building renovations and power line extensions.

"How are we going to do that? Are we going to pass this year and consider it as nothing available?" John said.

Clahchischilliage said lawmakers would have a better understanding about capital outlay funding after the special session.

State Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, reminded chapter officials that cities and counties have similar questions about capital outlay funds.

"We don't know what's going to happen. Just be prepared," Muñoz said.

After hearing from state lamakers, David Silversmith, a proposal writer for the Navajo Division of Transportation, told the lawmakers it is important that they continue passing along information about the budget talks to chapter governments.

Ralph Atcitty, a representative of the Shiprock Youth Home, was among those who commented about the economic uncertainty and the potential that there might be no funding to complete projects at the facility.

"It does take time, and the only time that I have is Father Time," Atcitty said.

Newcomb Chapter Vice President Irving Gleason's concern extended beyond the budget discussion. He asked lawmakers to examine the process for archaeological clearances, environmental impact statements and cultural preservation.

"Why are these more mandatory on the Navajo reservation than for private, commercial (land)? This hurts our community," Gleason said.

San Juan County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter, left, and San Juan County Commissioner Margaret McDaniel talk about how the county is addressing its budget issues on Tuesday during a meeting at San Juan College in Farmington.

He added the community of Newcomb was set to build a housing area for veterans, but the first planned location was in a flood plain, and Anasazi artifacts were found on the second location after a review.

"So now, there goes the veterans housing that we initiated, and this has been taking us so long — 20 years — just to find out we can't use that area. It's time consuming and frustrating," Gleason said.

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