By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Tribal employees of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) will get an early Christmas present in the form of a 7 percent COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment). During its regular session on Thursday, Dec. 5, Tribal Council passed Res. 77 (2019), joint legislation from Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed, Vice Chief Alan B. Ensley, and the entirety of Council, which authorized the COLA.
In a memo to tribal employees later that afternoon, Chief Sneed stated, “We have made great strides in improving the efficiency of our workforce, delivering services on conservative budgets, and saving more than ever before. The financial position of the EBCI is strong and growing, and that is because of our workforce. To all of our tribal employees, we appreciate you and the work you do!”
According to the memo, the COLA increase and retroactive pay to Oct. 1, 2019 will be reflected in the Friday, Dec. 20 paycheck.
Res. No. 77 states, “…the last COLA adjustment was made by resolution of the Tribal Council for FY2016 and since that time the federal COLA rate has been 6.4 percent…to better align the wages of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and to recognize the contributions of employees to the EBCI a COLA in the amount of 7 percent is warranted…”
The legislation outlines how this will be paid for by the Tribe. “…the Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise (TCGE) has revised their gaming projection to increase the overall revenue amount and the EBCI intends to keep the baseline gaming budget of 80 percent of revenue projection.”
It continues, “..the EBCI FY2020 Budget is revised to reflect 80 percent of the updated revenue projection bringing the baseline gaming revenue number to $346,350,000 from $316,100,000 with the increased revenue being allocated to cover the cost of the COLA increase, additional Tribal Employee Pension Contributions, and the balance to the EBCI General Fund.”
During Annual Council on Oct. 31, Tribal Council approved Res. No. 44 (2019), originally submitted by Vice Chief Ensley and Wolftown Rep. Bo Crowe, which called for a 5 percent COLA. Chief Sneed vetoed that legislation stating, “…the resolution passed by Tribal Council failed to identify an effective date for the COLA and cannot be implemented as approved. We are working to correct that error. Furthermore, the 5 percent is not enough to fully recognize our workforce.”
Vice Chief Ensley talked about the importance of tribal programs and employees during discussion on Res. No. 44. “I think the employees are worth it. We all call on tribal employees to do whatever we, as elected officials, need done on a daily basis. The majority of these are enrolled members that we have working. We have around 1,100 employees, and they are the backbone of the Tribe.”
The 7 percent COLA applies only to EBCI tribal employees and not employees of tribal entities (Cherokee Boys Club, Cherokee Indian Hospital, etc.) nor employees of Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort and Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River.