Executive & Finance Committee approves $1.16B budget

BY D. SEAN ROWLEY
Senior Reporter
08/26/2019 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH – After only a day of deliberation, the Tribal Council’s Executive & Finance Committee unanimously approved the fiscal 2019-20 budget, totaling $1.16 billion, on Aug. 19.

Janees Taylor, committee chairwoman, was happy to see the legislators approve the budget with one voice.

“(I) appreciate the Council giving so much time to this budget, because this is how we take care of our people,” Taylor said. “I am always impressed that, by far, the majority of our resources, both financial and human – in the form of our employees – go to actually serving our citizens.”

It was the fifth consecutive year that the budget hearings were completed in one day. All departmental budgets were reviewed and discussed. The Tribal Council was expected to officially approve the budget at its next regular meeting on Sept. 16.

Jamie Cole, CN controller, said the biggest boost in funding went to health care.

“The Health Services Department received the largest increase in funding as compared to last year, largely in part to the full year’s operating budget being included for the new Cherokee Nation Outpatient Health Center in Tahlequah,” Cole said.

Council Speaker Joe Byrd applauded all who took part in allocating the budget, adding that additional funding was acquired through the joint venture with the Indian Health Service to build and operate the outpatient facility.

“Although this is the largest budget we have passed for the Cherokee Nation, we have experienced executive directors presenting their budgets, providing us with the appropriate insight to make this decision,” Byrd said. “Even with the federal funding for the joint venture increasing the overall budget, we were still able to put a budget together that appears to service the people.”

There were departments that will see less funding in the initial budget, though the Tribal Council routinely passes modifications throughout the fiscal year.

“The Commerce Services Department saw the largest decrease in funding, largely due to some grant funding received in the previous year and for which awards have not yet been made for next year,” Cole said.

Additional funding for payroll was also required after Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. announced an increase of the tribe’s minimum wage from $9.50 to $11 an hour, which takes effect Oct. 1.

“The cost of the minimum wage increase is estimated to cost up to $12.8 million,” Cole said. “However, funding for raises and the Christmas bonuses are included within the approved comprehensive budget for fiscal year ’20.”

“This budget funds, and in many cases increases funding for, programs and services vital to the Cherokee people as well as an employee pay increase. I look forward to final budget approval at full Council,” Principal Chief Hoskin said.

Once approved by the council, the budget will be posted online at Cherokee.org/about-the-nation/financial-reports/comprehensive-budgets/.
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