Havre Daily News
ROCKY BOY'S INDIAN RESERVATION - The Rocky Boy tribal council has preliminarily approved a five-figure pay raise for council members and a 5 percent pay raise for tribal employees, council members said today.
The decision, made at an administrative committee meeting Thursday, is subject to change based on the accounting staff's assessment of whether the tribe can pay for the increases, tribal council chairman John "Chance" Houle said today.
Council member Donovan Stump proposed a raise of $15,000 for each council member at the meeting, Houle said. He added that the committee included a 5 percent raise for all employees.
To take effect, the increases would also have to be approved at a regular council meeting, he added.
The two council members who voted against the raise may decide not to take it, Houle said.
The maximum pay raise considered could bring Houle's salary to about the level paid to Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who earns $96,462 a year.
Houle said he thinks that an increase for the council, putting its members on par with other state officials, is appropriate because of the council members' workload and recent economic development projects the council says will create new jobs.
Also, Houle said the increase for council members takes into account the fact that they do not receive benefits.
"It makes it look like an awful lot," Houle said. "If you break down another employee's salary and you look at the 401(k), (the total package) would look the same as ours."
Tribal employees receive an 11 percent retirement package above their base salary without paying a match, Houle said.
A 5 percent increase to base salaries brings more than a 5 percent increase in total benefits, Houle said. But if the tribe goes with the $15,000 figure, the council's raise will be higher than employees' raises.
"I'm not sure it's going to be 15 (thousand)," Houle said today. He said Stump calculated the figure on scratch paper during the meeting when looking at the 5 percent increase to other employees.
Houle said that was the figure the council voted on, but more research will go into setting a final figure.
"We can't take what was scribbled on top of a councilman's desktop," Houle said.
The pay raise for employees comes after two years without an increase, he added.
Houle said there are other reasons the council deserves an increase.
"I think my colleagues work as hard as our governor, our legislators and our senators," he said.
He noted that Montana's congressional delegation earn about $175,000 a year. A U.S. Senate spokesman said today U.S. senators and representatives earn $162,100 annually.
"I've got some councilmen that are workhorses," Houle said. "They've put 24-7 in. ... These guys, with all the projects we've got going, the economic development, along with us balancing our budget, which it looks like we're going to do - I think our colleagues are probably underpaid."
Council members are paid $70,000 annually, with the vice-chair earning $75,000 and the chairman earning $80,000.
Council members Ricky Morsette and Rusty Gopher voted against the raises. Jonathan Windy Boy and Kenny Writing Bird were not at the meeting.
Houle said Morsette told him he believed other members deserved the raise, but he didn't, and didn't want to take it.
Gopher said Monday he voted against the raise because the rest of the tribal employees hadn't received a pay increase for several years. He said the council discussed the fact that he and Morsette would not take the raise, if it was later approved by the committee.
Word of the raise has already spread through Rocky Boy.
"I know it's going to be talked about and it's going to be out there," Stump said. "It's already out there anyway."
Rocky Boy resident Ken Standing Rock said he doesn't know how the tribe can afford the raise.
"We're supposed to be a broke tribe," Standing Rock said.
For about five months this year, notices saying the council would not grant requests for donations or assistance were posted in the tribal council offices. At the time, council members said the measure was taken to keep within budget.
"I think it's an abuse of power," resident Jeanne Big Knife Hobbs said today about the raises, noting the difficulties her children have had finding jobs.
Houle said today that job growth is on the rise, and the measures council members have taken to stay within the budget have worked.
"I know we have a high unemployment rate, but right now we can't (fill) jobs at the casino, Past Time, Gramma's and the cafe," Houle said.
He said he believes the council has created 100 jobs in the last year. He said work is scheduled to begin in the next month on a new, expanded casino at Laredo. That will bring more jobs during construction and operation.
"There's nobody who can walk through the door who I cannot send to work" if they pass a drug test, Houle said.