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New EBCI budget includes salary increases for employees, elected officials

New EBCI budget includes salary increases for employees, elected officials

Tribal Council passed a 2021-2022 budget today that incorporates recommended salary increases for employees, board members and elected officials following the results of a compensation analysis from the consulting firm REDW.

With the budget’s adoption, all tribal employees will get a 5% raise, and those with salaries below the market rate as determined by the analysis will receive further adjustments, said Finance Secretary Cory Blankenship. Tribal leaders will then look for issues with salary compression resulting from the changes and adjust as needed.

The study found that $888,998 in spending was needed to bring all employees up to the minimum market rate and estimated another $200,000 would be needed to address salary compression.

REDW is a CPA and consulting firm that conducts annual REDW Tribal Government and Tribal Gaming Compensation Surveys and has worked as an advocate and advisor for Native American tribes for more than 30 years.

Council members spent more than an hour discussing the document, with nearly all of that conversation focused on the salary recommendations and in particular on the raises proposed for Tribal Council and chief positions.

Under the new pay structure, first term Council members will earn $90,492 per year — about $10,000 more than they do currently — with a 6% increase for each subsequent term up to a maximum of $157,936 for 10th-term members. The chair will receive an additional $15,000 and the vice chair an additional $10,000. The salaries will also be tied to the Consumer Price Index, so the benchmarks will change from year to year to adjust for inflation.

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The pay plan also includes a salary of $262,732 for the principal chief and $218,943 for the vice chief.

REDW recommended that enterprise and investment boards receive $1,500 per meeting, while regulatory and government boards receive $1,000 per meeting. Tribal Gaming Commission members should receive $80,600 per year, with $87,145 for the chair and $83,500 for the vice chair, while the Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise Board should adhere to the same salary schedule as Tribal Council. The Cherokee School Board should continue to earn $25,000 annually.

However, said Finance Secretary Cory Blankenship, any boards, commissions or committees that want to change their compensation in light of the study will have to bring in separate legislation to receive Tribal Council approval for those changes. Today’s vote approved only the structure for compensation changes.

“It would keep everything as is for the boards, commissions and committees unless they bring a separate authorizing resolution to the Council,” Blankenship said.

Word of the proposed changes to Council and executive pay got out on the Qualla Boundary prior to today’s Budget Council, and members said they had spent much of the weekend fielding calls from tribal members who were upset by the plan. However, they said, many of those who opposed it didn't realize it also included across-the-board increases for employees too. 

Some of the Council members who will see pay hikes as a result of the plan said they agreed with those constituents. Chairman Adam Wachacha questioned the $15,000 stipend the Council chair would receive, asking why it shouldn’t be closer to $5,000. After the budget passed, Wolfetown Representative Bo Crowe asked whether he could request a vote to keep his salary set at its current level of $80,600. He was told that wasn’t possible, but he could have the excess donated .

Other Council members said that the higher salaries would help recruit qualified people who currently hold high-paying jobs to consider lending their talents to the governing body. All three members who were not re-elected in last week’s elections and will leave Council in October said they support the increases.

“It’s not the ‘80s anymore,” said Principal Chief Richard Sneed. “It’s almost 2022, and we have a massive budget with massive responsibilities. Council members are asked to make decisions that are in the hundreds of millions of dollars all the time.”

Tribal officials manage a budget totaling $632 million as well as more than $2 billion in monetary assets, Sneed said. They govern 16,000 tribal members and employ more than 1,200 tribal workers. That high level of responsibility merits a higher level of pay, he said.

Crowe moved to table the budget until Tribal Council on Thursday, Sept. 9, with a second from Painttown Rep. Dike Sneed. However, that move failed 4-8, while Snowbird Rep. Bucky Brown’s move seconded by Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke passed by the reverse ratio.

Voting in favor of the budget were Wolfetown Rep. Chelsea Saunooke, Big Cove Rep. Richard French, Big Cove Rep. Perry Shell, Birdtown Rep. Boyd Owle, Yellowhill Rep. Tom Wahnetah, Vice Chief David Wolfe, Tommy Saunooke and Brown. Against it were Birdtown Rep. Albert Rose, Dike Sneed, Crowe and Wachacha.

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