Bill goes to president's office to signature or veto

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FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation Council has passed legislation to reallocate sales tax revenue to benefit the tribe's fire and rescue services department.

The council voted on the bill — 16 in favor and none opposed — during the winter session on Thursday in Window Rock, Arizona.

Under the proposal, a portion of the tribe's 5 percent sales tax revenue would go toward a fund for the fire and rescue services to use for personnel, training, equipment and public education.

The resolution will be submitted to tribal President Russell Begaye for review. After it is submitted to his office, he has 10 calendar days to sign or veto it.

In video posted online by the Office of the Speaker, Delegate Benjamin Bennett, who cosponsored the bill, said the reallocation would provide much-needed funding to the department.

Navajo Nation Fire Chief Larry Chee said the department has operated with limited to no funding since 1982.

There are nine fire stations on the reservation, according to the department's website.

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"There's a lot that we do out there on a daily basis, 24 hours day and night," Chee said, adding personnel respond to medical services calls, extract individuals from vehicle accidents and educate the public about fire safety.

Jesse Delmar, executive director for the tribe's Division of Public Safety, said a frustrating part of his job is the lack of money provided to the department.

"They get a small amount. It doesn't really improve the services of the Navajo Nation fire department," Delmar said.

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Delegate Leonard Pete spoke in favor of the bill and said fire departments are necessary in communities, especially when it comes to promoting economic development.

"How do you expect someone to come in there and make all that investment when you don't have fire protection?" Pete asked.

Delegate Raymond Smith Jr. added to the comments about economic development.

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Smith said when business owners consider locations on the Navajo Nation, they look at what type of public safety services are available because they do not want to "jeopardize" their investments.

Delegate Edmund Yazzie said the funding could help establish fire services in communities that lack them.

"Let's test the waters and help the fire crew out. Yes, they are needed," Yazzie said.

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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