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Big budget cuts, layoffs at White Earth: News prompts resignations at police department

The White Earth Tribal Council has taken drastic action to balance the reservation’s 2019 budget — laying off 25 employees and slashing some departmental budgets by up to 40 percent.

The action is needed to balance a $12 million general fund deficit, caused by “four years of deficit spending by the previous administration,” according to a tribal news release.

Alan Roy won the tribal secretary-treasurer’s job from Tara Mason in an election earlier this year, and Ray Auginaush defeated Punky Clark, leading to a power change on the five-person Tribal Council.  

“Major costs under prior leadership with long-term impacts included $26 million invested in marginal gaming ventures. These investments have impacted tribal programs and services now and into the future,” the news release says.

“Key staff worked hard to identify areas where reductions could be made.  At the discretion of division directors, cuts as high as 40 percent were made to program budgets, which resulted in 25 layoffs, seven transfers, and five employees with reduced hours.”

Some major cuts for next year include $855,000 to the tribal police department budget , lowering it from $2.9 million this year to $2.1 million next year.

Bryan Byrne, who has 18 years of law enforcement experience, was one of five tribal police officers laid off because of the budget cuts. Three other officers resigned during an emotional staff meeting with tribal Police Chief Mike LaRoque. Two of those eight officers have since re-joined the police department.

Byrne, who has been with the White Earth Police Department for one and half years, says the police chief decided who to lay off, and the decision was not made on the basis of seniority, since seven officers have been hired since he started.

Byrne said he is a SWAT and explosives instructor, has done undercover work, knows surveillance, is a driving instructor, trained-in at least one new tribal police officer, and always took pride in doing his job well.

He fears for the effectiveness of the 30-person tribal police department, which was down five positions even before the layoffs and resignations.

“It’s unfortunate for the people of White Earth, the police department is falling apart,” he said.

The new budget includes a set-aside of $250,000 to pay for audits of government programs.

A set-aside for other government projects has been proposed, to include investigations of expenditures related to the Star Lake and Bagley Casino ventures.

Two additional grant writers will be hired in hopes of bringing more revenue into the general fund, and the Tribal Council will engage heavily at the federal and state levels, as well as with nonprofits and foundations, to secure funding and free-up general fund resources.

Considerable cuts were made to line items, aiming for minimal impact on services to White Earth members.

The third quarter financial report delivered at the Sept. 6 Tribal Council meeting showed the tribe had just $1.5 million in general fund cash.

Tribal Chairman Terry Tibbetts, Secretary-Treasurer Alan Roy, and council members Umsy Tibbetts, Kathy Goodwin and Ray Auginaush were involved in the current budget process and voted 4-0 to approve the FY19 general fund budget.

The $20.4 million budget was approved at a special meeting Sept. 24, and supports multiple programs and initiatives -- including the elderly nutrition and assistance programs, cultural programs and powwows, Boys and Girls Clubs in the main tribal communities, and public safety, among many others.

“The White Earth Reservation Business Committee continues with a positive outlook for the future of White Earth and its members and is committed to moving forward,” the news release says.

Tribal officials could not be reached or did not respond to messages seeking comment on Friday.

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