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NAVAJO COMMISSIONER SAYS BUDGET IS FURTHER EVIDENCE OF DISCRIMINATION

SHARE NAVAJO COMMISSIONER SAYS BUDGET IS FURTHER EVIDENCE OF DISCRIMINATION

San Juan County's passage of a 1990 budget Monday continues a trend of discrimination against the southeastern Utah county's 5,500 Navajo citizens, a Navajo county commissioner said Tuesday.

But the commission's chairman denied the budget treats Navajos unfairly and said the county would be broke if it followed the commission's lone Navajo, Commissioner Mark Maryboy.The county's three commissioners, led by Chairman Calvin Black, approved a $4.4 million budget Monday. However, the commission rejected a $572,000 request for road paving and fencing projects submitted by Maryboy.

The budget was passed in the wake of an independent audit released to the Deseret News showing only 25 percent of the tax revenue taken from the Navajo Indian Reservation was spent on services for Navajo residents.

Half the county's population is Navajo and lives on the reservation in the southeastern corner of the state - a region known as the Utah Strip.

Maryboy forwarded a budget package for his Navajo district totaling $572,000 and including a line item for $365,000 in road improvements for a dirt road near the town of Montezuma Creek and a $125,000 fencing project nearby.

Commissioners Black and Ty Lewis denied Maryboy the road and fencing project, prompting Maryboy to charge the two are ignoring their Navajo constituents in the southeastern portion of the county.

"I don't know what god they pray to, but all I can say is these people are heartless," Maryboy said of his colleagues.

Black said Maryboy submitted his requests after the department was already over budget. Further, the county has traditionally paved only portions of roads on a yearly basis, not entire roads as requested by Maryboy.

Maryboy's request ran contrary to a county policy prohibiting using county funds for fencing projects, Black added.

An audit commissioned by oil companies suing the county over the county's right to tax oil production on the reservation showed the county collected $28.5 million in property taxes on the reservation since 1978.

Over that same period, the county returned only $7.2 million in county-funded services to the reservation, according to the audit prepared by Arthur Young & Co., a national accounting firm.

For example, the audit found that while the county spent $5.9 million on public health off the reservation, the county spent no county money on public health on the reservation.

The audit found that the county has $26 million in unspent county money sitting in several carryover funds, including $7.8 million left over in the county's general fund budget.

San Juan County Administrator Rick Bailey said the county has only $2 million left over in its general fund and criticized the audit as a tool exploited by the oil companies against the county.

"That (audit) was presented to the oil companies in an attempt to get them (Navajo leaders) to side with them on the litigation... it is a biased report," Bailey said.

According to Bailey, San Juan County has only $18 million to $20 million in unspent funds, money it keeps in contingency to cushion expected slumps in the economy now that the once-vigorous uranium industry in the region is stalling.

Black said more budget requests like that from Maryboy would lead the county into bankruptcy. "If we (commissioners) each made a request like Mark did, we would wipe out all of those funds," he said.

MacRay Curtis, manager of local government accounting for the state auditor's office, said San Juan County is in compliance with state law governing the amount of money it holds in unspent contingency accounts.

Commissioners did agree to spend $35,000 on a county fair in the southern part of the county, a request from Maryboy. The county also spent $23,000 on Navajo senior citizen centers.