50 Years Ago: NTUA decides to raise rates

As 1969 ended, the Navajo Times printed a story that would become its first controversy of 1970 – a decision by the board for Navajo Tribal Utility Authority to raise its rates by as much as 21 percent.

As can be imagined, this did set well with many of the company’s customers, especially those on a fixed income. And the decision to announce it during the Christmas holidays also drew criticism.

This was the first time that the company had ever raised its rates. A decision was made to use the Times as a way to break the news, hoping that company officials would be able to cut down on the criticism by being upfront about the price increase as well as provide a forum that would allow them to justify it.

C. Mac Eddy, the company’s director, said NTUA had no choice but to increase the rates. If no increase was put in effect, NTUA would be in the red by the end of 1970 by more than a million dollars and would have to cut back on plans to expand service to more rural parts of the reservation.

“The tribe’s present gas rates are substantially below cost,” he said, adding that El Paso Natural Gas, which was its supplier of gas, had raised its wholesale rates the previous month and was planning to raise them again in 1970 and 1971.

In truth, this was a problem created by the NTUA board, which in the past decided not to raise rates to keep up with rising costs.

Part of this was political. Navajo Tribal Chairman Raymond Nakai had convinced the board several times during his years in office to postpone rate increases because he feared it would hurt his re-election efforts. And he especially didn’t want it to occur in an election year but the management board said they had no choice.

Under the new payment plan, the people who used the least gas would be hit the hardest. The more gas a household used, the lower the increase.

The lowest rate paid by an NTUA customer at the time was $5 a month. Beginning in January, their monthly rate would go up to $6.05, a 21.5 percent increase. That dollar may not have sounded like much but Nakai pointed out that some Navajo families were living on welfare payments of $80 a month so every dollar counted.

Families who were using twice that much gas were paying $8.55 a month. Their rates were going up 20.5 percent and they would be paying $1.75 more a month. A family using 10 times as much gas paid NTUA $32.20 and their increase would be $4.25 more a month for a 14.4 percent increase.

From a financial point of view, the increase would provide NTUA a 2 percent profit on average, said Eddy, at a time when it was paying banks 8 percent to borrow money to pay expand its services.

“I believe the board has worked out a fair compromise between the financial needs of our customers and the needs of the tribe’s customers,” said Eddy.

The rates went into effect in January and caused a lot of ruckus but it seems that by the time the election season was in full force by June, the controversy had died down and probably did not play a role in Nakai’s defeat.

Another front-page article 50 years ago praised the sons of Allen and Anna Redhair of Piñon, Arizona. Both were students at Snowflake High and both were graduating with honors.

John Redhair had received the school’s “I dare you” award honoring his academic and athletic career at the school, which according to the article was the second highest honor the school bestowed.

His brother, Tom, was named the school’s outstanding athlete of the year at the recent Letterman”s Club banquet. He was the unanimous choice of all of the coaches at the high school.

About 700 students attended the high school and this appears to be the first time that brothers were honored in this fashion.

The Times regularly published stories of this kind singling out members of the tribe for their accomplishments in high school and college but this was one of the rare times that a story made the front page rather than one of the inside pages.

And finally, it’s probably time to give some recognition to W. Dean Wilson, who wrote a column for the paper for several years giving powwow news.

According to the paper’s editor, Dick Hardwick, this was a very popular column because not only did Wilson present news of upcoming powwows that tribal members may want to attend, but he also recognized some of the best powwow dancers who attended these events, whether they be Navajo or from other tribes.

It was obvious that Wilson enjoyed attending powwows and had many friends who attended and participated. And it was also obvious that Wilson had the writing ability to make the highlights of the dances interesting for even those who may not have been as great a fan of powwows as he was.

In his columns, he stressed the finer points of the dancers and oftentimes complimented them for the many hours of practice they brought to the event. He would also comment at length about their dance regalia and the fact that all members of their family would be a part of the group.

For example, his column this month talked about a powwow held at the Manuelito Boarding School, which was the last of the season in the Gallup area.

In his column, he gave special recognition to Danny Begay, an instructor at Navajo Community College who was a mainstay in the circuit and well known for his singing Plains social and war dance songs, for some of which he provided his own lyrics.

Evidently, said Wilson, he was so popular on the circuit that over the years had he attracted a number of “recorders” who came to make sure his songs were saved for future generations.



About The Author

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan has been writing about the Navajo Nation government since 1971 and for the Navajo Times since 1976. He is currently semi-retired and is living in Torrance, California, and continues to report for the Navajo Times.

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