RAMAH, N.M. - Approximately $4.5 million dollars that was to go toward building a 15,000 square foot police and fire substation near Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort has not been released, despite the Navajo Nation Council's approval of the expenditure.
On June 28, the Budget and Finance Committee received a report from Controller of the Navajo Nation Jim R. Parris, who informed the committee that the Office of the Controller (OOC) and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have not released money for the construction of a police and fire substation at the Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort.
Council approved resolution CAP-20-16 in April that adopted the Síhasin Fund Twin Arrows Police and Fire Station Economic/Community Development Expenditure Plan that allocated the money for a police/fire substation that would consist of a 9-1-1 dispatch room, a three-bay garage for fire trucks, sleeping quarters for public safety personnel, training rooms and administrative offices.
According to Parris, his office was directed to halt the release of the money for the construction by Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President (OPVP) legal advisor Karis Begaye, who questioned if the resolution required Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye's signature and requested an opinion on the matter from the Navajo Nation Department of Justice (NNDOJ).
BFC member Council Delegate Leonard Tsosie (Baca/Prewitt, Casamero Lake, Counselor, Littlewater, Ojo Encino, Pueblo Pintado, Torreon, Whitehorse Lake) told Parris that building the substation is crucial.
"I suggest looking at the authorization of the Síhasin Fund - it's to comply with the gaming compact in Arizona and to provide police and fire safety to the Twin Arrows area," Tsosie said. "How can the president of the Navajo Nation say no to that? The construction season is going to end in the middle of July. If we do not have it running by the middle of July, might as well kiss it goodbye for another year."
Tsosie added that the resolution did not require Begaye's signature and that Council serves as the final authority on the expenditure plan. He said the Síhasin Fund is not a comprehensive budget or a trust fund that would be subject to the Appropriations Act, and that the Síhasin Fund Subcommittee was created to develop and implement expenditure plans for the fund.
In 2014, the Council adopted the Navajo Nation Breach of Trust Settlement Act that created the Síhasin Fund and mandated that the money from the settlement agreement be used for the planning and development of regional infrastructure supporting economic and community development, and educational opportunities for Navajo citizens. The Síhasin Fund Subcommittee was established in April 2015 and was tasked with recommending expenditure plans as mandated by the act.
Tsosie said when the act was signed into law, it was understood that the Council would act as final authority on expenditure plans specifically for the Síhasin Fund.
Parris said he is in support of constructing the public safety substation, but he wanted to consult with the OPVP to gain further understanding regarding NNDOJ's opinion, which stated that the resolution requires the president's signature.
"I want to figure out why they are holding this up from their position," Parris said. "I am supportive and I can't tell you what the thinking is right now that is coming from the NNDOJ, because this is not a trust fund. This is a different kind of funding arrangement and has approval from Council, and I believe it has the authority that it needs."
He added that it was important to work together to build a relationship based on communication and understanding to protect the investment of the Navajo Nation, and he agreed that the substation is important to the Nation and the people residing near the casino.
BFC member Council Delegate Tom Chee said the Navajo people have a right to be protected and the lack of public safety facilities throughout the Navajo Nation is causing distress to communities because citizens do not feel safe.
"Mr. Parris, when you go to the president, you can say, 'it's not about us, it's about the people of the Navajo Nation,'" he said. "We have subjected them to such distressful conditions for so long. It's time that we set aside our differences. I don't care who gets the credit, the point is let's get these buildings funded and let's move forward."
At the conclusion of the discussion, Tsosie recommended a directive to the OOC and OMB to carry out CAP-20-16 and release the money so construction can begin as soon as possible, and if both offices fail to respond to the directive, the chairman of the BFC may seek assistance from the Navajo Nation Office of Legislative Counsel to enforce the resolution.
BFC member Council Delegate Tuchoney Slim, Jr. (Bodaway/Gap, Coppermine, K'ai'Bii'Tó, LeChee, Tonalea/Red Lake) made a point in reminding committee members that delaying the construction of the public safety substation at Twin Arrows would be detrimental to economic development and revenues generated.