Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 25, 2009

GT Band authorizes 'extensive' budget cuts

Council says reductions are needed to balance spending


PESHAWBESTOWN -- Leaders of a local American Indian tribe authorized "extensive budget cuts" to balance spending for the upcoming fiscal year, but would not discuss reduction specifics.

The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians' Tribal Council members accepted salary cuts and some government programs have been rolled back to accommodate a budget shortfall, tribal Chairman Derek Bailey said.

The council sent a letter to all tribal members, dated Sept. 18, and said cuts were needed "to control deficit spending and to safeguard assets for our present membership and future membership."

The 2010 fiscal year begins Oct. 1. The band operated with a roughly $3.9 million deficit this year, according to the letter. The shortfall amount for next year is unclear.

Even though the band is sovereign, "we're not immune to the state and federal government woes," Bailey said, citing a decline in gaming revenues as the motivation for cuts. "If you look at the United States, all the other leisure and consumer-based enterprises (have struggled)."

Tribal law required council members to take 10 percent and 20 percent pay cuts, the letter states, but it is unclear which members took which cuts and when.

Bailey was in Lansing on Thursday and could not be reached for additional comment.

He deferred comment on council salary cuts and gaming revenues to two other tribal members, neither of whom responded to calls from the Record-Eagle.

The Tribal Government Reduction and Reorganization Act, as the upcoming cutbacks are known, was approved in late August after a recommendation from a committee comprised of the tribe's manager, human resources director and chief financial officer.

Eligibility criteria for some government services has been made more stringent, particularly for human services, education and health services, tribal manager Jane Rohl said.

She did not elaborate on how that will contribute to reducing a deficit and said the full Tribal Council would need to approve the release of budget figures.

"We still provide the same services we did before," Rohl said. "We're anticipating it's not going to affect people in need of the services, but we're not going to have any verification of that until we get into the next fiscal year."

About $1 million was cut from the roughly $11 million budget this fiscal year, according to a band newsletter from March 2009 posted online.

The council this year voted to suspend its practice of matching employees' 401(k) contributions, saving $65,158, the newsletter stated.