Red Lake Nation News - Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

By Nathan Bowe
Duluth News Tribune 

Big budget cuts, layoffs at White Earth reservation, including police force


October 1, 2018

MAHNOMEN, Minn.—The White Earth Tribal Council has taken drastic action to balance the reservation's 2019 budget — laying off 25 employees and slashing some departmental budgets by up to 40 percent.

The action is needed to balance a $12 million general fund deficit, caused by "four years of deficit spending by the previous administration," according to a tribal news release from the reservation in northwest Minnesota.

Alan Roy won the tribal secretary treasurer's job from Tara Mason in an election earlier this year, and Ray Auginaush defeated Punky Clark, leading to a power change on the five-person Tribal Council.

"Major costs under prior leadership with long-term impacts included $26 million invested in marginal gaming ventures. These investments have impacted tribal programs and services now and into the future," the news release said..

"Key staff worked hard to identify areas where reductions could be made. At the discretion of division directors, cuts as high as 40 percent were made to program budgets, which resulted in 25 layoffs, seven transfers, and five employees with reduced hours."

Some major cuts for next year include $855,000 to the tribal police department budget, lowering it from $2.9 million this year to $2.1 million next year.

Bryan Byrne, who has 18 years of law enforcement experience, was one of five tribal police officers laid off because of the budget cuts. Three other officers resigned during an emotional staff meeting with tribal Police Chief Mike LaRoque. Two of those eight officers have since re-joined the police department.

Byrne, who has been with the White Earth Police Department for one and half years, said the police chief decided who to lay off, and the decision was not made on the basis of seniority, since seven officers have been hired since he started.

Byrne said he is a SWAT and explosives instructor, has done undercover work, knows surveillance, is a driving instructor, trained-in at least one new tribal police officer, and always took pride in doing his job well.

He fears for the effectiveness of the 30-person tribal police department, which was down five positions even before the layoffs and resignations.

"It's unfortunate for the people of White Earth, the police department is falling apart," he said.

The new budget includes a set-aside of $250,000 to pay for audits of government programs.

A set-aside for other government projects has been proposed, to include investigations of expenditures related to the Star Lake and Bagley Casino ventures.

Two additional grant writers will be hired in hopes of bringing more revenue into the general fund, and the Tribal Council will engage heavily at the federal and state levels, as well as with nonprofits and foundations, to secure funding and free-up general fund resources.

Considerable cuts were made to line items, aiming for minimal impact on services to White Earth members.

The third quarter financial report delivered at the Sept. 6 Tribal Council meeting showed the tribe had just $1.5 million in general fund cash.

Tribal Chairman Terry Tibbetts, Secretary-Treasurer Alan Roy, and council members Umsy Tibbetts, Kathy Goodwin and Ray Auginaush were involved in the current budget process and voted 4-0 to approve the new fiscal year general fund budget.

The $20.4 million budget was approved at a special meeting Sept. 24, and supports multiple programs and initiatives—including the elderly nutrition and assistance programs, cultural programs and powwows, Boys and Girls Clubs in the main tribal communities, and public safety, among many others.

"The White Earth Reservation Business Committee continues with a positive outlook for the future of White Earth and its members and is committed to moving forward," the news release says.

Tribal officials could not be reached or did not respond to messages seeking comment on Friday.

What is being cut and by how much

The White Earth Tribal Council made some major budget cuts for Fiscal year 2019. Here's a look at how tribal departments will be affected:

The tribal police department budget will be cut by $855,000, lowering it from $2.9 million this year to $2.1 million next year.

The Elderly Nutrition program will be cut by $577,000, nearly in half, from $1.3 million this year to $708,000 next fiscal year.

The entire $350,000 budgeted this year for the ambulance service was cut to zero next year.

The entire $128,000 budget for the Boys and Girls Club in White Earth village was cut, as was the entire $103,000 budget for the public works road crew.

The entire $223,000 zoning budget was cut, as was the entire $162,000 risk management budget and the entire $132,000 quality assurance budget.

Tribal security will also take a $251,000 hit, and will go from $390,000 this year to $138,000 next year.

Conservation took a $116,000 hit, from $191,000 this year to $74,000 next year.

Some $490,000 will be cut from BIA combined services (from $1.1 million this year to $624,000 next year).

The Land Department will see a $354,000 cut, from $948,000 this year to $595,000 next year.

The Planning Department will see a $320,000 cut, from $524,000 this year to $204,000 next year.

Communications will see a $195,000 cut, from $340,000 this year to $145,000 next year. Constituent services was cut by $62,000, or about a sixth of its budget.

Other major cuts include $265,000 from the water system, $248,000 from fleet maintenance and replacement, $211,000 from tribal courts, $122,000 from the cultural program and $119,000 from the wild rice program.

But it's not all cut, cut, cut — the budget anticipates a big jump in casino revenues — to $10.3 million next fiscal year from $7.5 million budgeted for this year, and some budget areas will see increases.

The tribe has budgeted $2.35 million for capital improvements and projects next year, up nearly $1 million from this year.

The tribe also plans to spend $770,000 next year on a line item called "interest/building payment." That line item is at zero this year.

There is an extra $95,000 in the budget for powwow expenses, and another $70,000 for water system construction, for a total of $272,000, up from $203,000 this year.

The tribe will spend an extra $50,000 on property taxes, with payments budgeted to go from $104,000 to $154,000.

The tribal council budgeted an additional $27,000 (for a total of $282,000) for boys and girls club administration next year, and an extra $26,000 for Drug Court (up from $144,000 this year). Also an extra $25,000 for enrollments.

There's $80,000 in the budget to hire a wild rice manager, a position that is not in this year's budget.

The tribe also expects to spend about $40,00 more on drug testing.

The Tribal Council's budget will essentially double, to $1.5 million, although all five of the council positions themselves will take cuts:

Chairman Terry Tibbetts will go from $177,000 to $161,000.

Secretary-Treasurer Alan Roy's position will go from $190,000 to $146,000.

District 1 Committeeman Ray Auginaush's position will go from $164,000 to $127,000.

District 2 Committeeman Kathy Goodwin will go from $166,000 to $158,000.

District 3 Committeeman Umsy Tibbetts will go from $153,000 to $141,000.


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