B&F approves $1.4 million for Ganado senior, veterans center
The Budget and Finance Committee Tuesday approved legislation allocating $1.4 million from the Sihasin Fund toward Council Delegate Vince James’ Ganado Senior Citizens and Veterans Center Expenditure Plan.
James explained there isn’t a senior center currently operating in Ganado and that other communities he represents will benefit greatly from this building. The funds he is requesting will go toward construction of the senior/veterans center.
A June 2019 Ganado Chapter resolution stated the Navajo Office of Safety and Occupational Health recommended immediate closure of the Ganado Senior Citizens Center due to multiple building deficiencies.
The new center “is not just going to serve Ganado chapter,” explained James. “It’s going to serve all the surrounding communities: Steamboat, Cornfields, Greasewood, Kinlichee, Klagetoh and possibly Jeddito.”
Within the past few weeks various bills requesting of Sihasin allocations have been voted on. According to the legislation that created it, the Sihasin Fund — started with a $554 million court settlement from 2014 — is meant to go toward funding or supporting planning and development of economic development, and regional infrastructure supporting economic and community development. It’s also supposed to go toward education opportunities for members of the Navajo Nation. Those restrictions have sometimes been loosely interpreted.
“We all want to support the projects,” said Budget and Finance Committee member Amber Crotty. “But the people also directed that a fourth of that initial funding be used for education, and as a delegate I’m saying, ‘Where’s the education piece of it?’”
Whether Sihasin monies are being used for their intended purposes has been a concern before. In July 2016 the Council approved the Síhasin Fund Twin Arrows Travel Center Development expenditure plan, to construct a convenience store, gas station, and trucker service station at the Interstate-40 interchange near the Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort. Former President Russell Begaye signed off on the final resolution. However, the funding was not released for almost two years, due to the opinions issued by then-Attorney General Ethel Branch, who held that the travel center is not within the definition of “economic development.” This episode would lead to Council in 2018 changing the wording of the law in order for the travel center to be built and to prevent this type of legal interference.
Crotty has been vigilant with the Sihasin Fund requests, and she asked James if there are other sources that could fund the project. She also brought up another factor that is usually overlooked: operation and maintenance. Using Navajo housing Authority as an example, she noted buildings sit empty because there is no money for operations and maintenance once they are built.
“NHA would build buildings and now they sit empty. Our federal partners are saying,‘We provided all this funding but now we have these buildings that aren’t occupied,’” said Crotty. “Part of that is operations and maintenance cost. So how much will this cost to operate and maintain?”
Two weeks ago the Law and Order Committee had a work session on legislation requesting for $66 million from the Sihasin funds to go toward the proposed Shiprock Judicial and Public Safety Center facilities. Delegates ended up jumping on the bandwagon with their own communities’ fiduciary needs for their judicial complexes as well. By the time it was over it was determined it would cost well over $300 million to fund all these projects, not including operations and maintenance.
Navajo Tribal Utility Authority is also eyeing $1 million from the Sihasin Fund for rights-of-way and easements for the upcoming Light Up Navajo II.
This Ganado legislation will proceed to the Resource and Development Committee, Naab’ikyati and then Navajo Nation Council.