A way out

Billings accounting firm attempts to steer Crow Tribe toward financial stability
Thursday, August 2, 2018

Photo by Andrew Turck

Pat Alden Jr., speaker of the House for the Legislative Branch, speaks Saturday afternoon during the Crow Tribe’s general council meeting in Crow Agency’s Multipurpose Building. According to Alden, it’s important that communication channels remain open for tribal operations, otherwise “we’re stuck.”

Crow leadership will “have a lot on their plate” in the coming months, according to Executive Branch Finance Director Joseph Eve, but they now have a shot at filing their Fiscal Year 2018 audit on time – or, if not, the 2019 document. The consequences of finishing the Fiscal Year 2016 audit nearly one year after the June 2017 deadline has been felt by tribal employees across the Crow Nation, many of whom either have been laid off or not paid in weeks.

The tribe’s fiscal year ends annually on Sept. 30.

“When a tribal audit is late, there’s no extension process provided for it by the federal government,” Eve told Crow members during Saturday’s general council meeting in Crow Agency’s Multipurpose Building. “What happens is then the tribe is put on high-risk status.

“It’s painful, as tribal members, because payroll gets cut and then families are not able to pay their bills because wages are not coming in. It turns into a very dire situation.”

Eve – who has more than two decades’ experience auditing the Crow Tribe – was called in to help officials with accounting at the end of February. Though it was “a painful and time-consuming process,” he said, his Billings-based accounting firm has managed to reconcile balance issues from before Oct. 1, 2016 as of about three weeks ago and can “roll forward” from that point.

“When we were hired, the expectation we tried to set was this is going to take about 12-15 months,” Eve said. That way, he continued, his firm can “get everything caught up and get the tribe back on a solid financial reporting perspective.”

Attempts by to finish the 84-page document by Brady Martz, the tribe’s auditing service for FY 2016, were complicated by a negative unassigned fund balance of more than $20 million for that time period, Eve said. Over the next year, he continued, the tribe will need to address an estimated $33 million in liability costs.

During the transition from former Crow Chairman Darrin Old Coyote to that of current Chairman Alvin “A.J.” Not Afraid in late December 2016, both officials indicated opposite views of the tribe’s financial situation. Citing an accounting sheet from First Interstate Bank, Old Coyote said the tribe was completely “in the black” financially. Not Afraid, in contrast, stated in a Facebook post that finances were “not only in disarray but there is a lack of strategic planning for long-term financial accountability.”

“The Crow Tribe had run like how all of us Crows use our funds privately,” Not Afraid said during the general council meeting. For example, he said, if the local boys’ or girls’ sports teams make it to the state championship, “most of the community would not pay their light bill and use that money to make it to the tournament.”

“By the time state rolls around, your lights are about ready to be shut off; that’s the same situation for the tribe,” he continued. “The tribe had obligations and didn’t do them, and now we have to pay those obligations.”

Program money, Not Afraid said, cannot be used for tribal operations outside its intended purpose. This type of “reactive” spending, he stated in a Jan. 16 report, had continued in past administrations for more than 30 years and brought them into their current predicament.

To help the tribe in its journey along a more responsible path, Not Afraid said, he and other Executive Branch officials had taken a pay cut. Pat Alden Jr., speaker of the House for the Legislative Branch, said his side of the government also has been forgoing some payments.

For the government to function smoothly, Alden said, it was important for senators to maintain communication channels with the tribe’s constituents, along with both the Executive and Judicial branches. Otherwise, he said, “we’re stuck.”

“We can’t move forward without communication,” Alden said. “Hopefully, the days are coming to an end on those budget difficulties.”

Crow senators voted in a Monday, July 23 special session to allocate funds from the federal Land Buy-Back Program to help keep tribal members financially afloat. They used $300,000 to compensate employees who have worked without pay, $768,600 for their elders’ fund, $36,400 to Big Horn County and Republic Services for waste removal, $220,000 to Bullis Mortuary and $20,000 to Dahl Funeral Home for debts owed by the tribe regarding arrangements for the deceased, $500,000 for the Head Start program, and $30,000 split evenly among the reservation’s six districts to distribute as needed.

Eve, in the conclusion to his speech, said his solution to the tribe’s problem may not be easy, but it was necessary for financial stability.

“It’s not the kind of financial report I would like to give,” he said, “but it is what it is and it needs to be addressed.”

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