Congress passes $1.2M appropriation bill for Nation-owned building maintenance, repair costs

During a one-day February special session, the Seventh Osage Nation Congress unanimously approved a $1.2 million appropriation bill to fund needed maintenance costs and emergency repairs for Nation-owned building properties.

On Feb. 2, the Congress met for its sixth special session called by executive proclamation signed by Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear. Like with other Congressional sessions since March 2020, the special session was held virtually with minimal Congress members and staff in the ON Capitol Building and the rest attending via videoconferencing as part of COVID-19 precautions.

The sole item for consideration was bill ONCA 21-15 (sponsored by Congressional Second Speaker Jodie Revard) requesting $1,213,357 to be appropriated to the Nation’s Property Improvement Fund. Osage law establishing the revolving Property Improvement Fund states the fund is to be used for: “capital improvements, regular maintenance, emergency repairs, utilities, taxes and insurance for Osage Nation commercial properties; and for capital improvements for Osage Nation property serviced by the fund.”

“I’ve been informed by (Casey Johnson, Executive Branch Director of Operations) and other staff there are immediate needs for repairs and maintenance of our tribal buildings as usual,” Standing Bear said in his executive message. “We’ve identified some costs and it’s not enough for what we are requesting ... We need to start many of these projects right now. Some of them include this building that Congress is in.” 

The Congressional Appropriations Committee met during the session day for initial bill consideration where Revard (also committee chair) said she agreed to sponsor the bill after visiting with the Executive Branch on the request. Revard said the Property Improvement Fund was created in bill ONCA 19-50 (sponsored by Congresswoman Alice Goodfox) in 2019 and “inside of that legislation was created a property income account and that account holds any of our money from our leasing of our properties ... third-party leasing. In the law, it states that money be received into that account and then Executive has to come to Congress to ask for permission to spend basically so we authorize the spending.”

With the $1.2 million proposed to come from the property income account, Revard noted the money is not coming from the Nation’s general fund, “it’s just being moved from one account to the other.”

According to a fiscal analysis of the bill prepared before the session, the Property Improvement Fund balance is $866,179 and with the $1.2 million coming from the property income account, that brings the fund balance total to $2,079,536.16, leaving approximately $6,200 in the property income account after the bill passes.

Appropriations Committee hears reports on Nation-owned lands, maintenance projects

During the meeting, the committee heard a presentation by Russell Bellamy of the Nation’s Real Estate Services Department on the lands owned by the Nation, which includes trust lands, fee simple lands and those in restricted status. According to Bellamy, the Nation owns approximately 52,450 acres of fee simple lands; 2,434 acres of land in trust; 2,986 acres of restricted land; 12,242 acres of trust land where the Nation has partial interest; 3,612 acres of partial interest in restricted status with the grand total at 73,724 acres.

As for out-of-state lands, Real Estate Services Director Melissa Currey, added the Nation owns 1,000 acres in Kansas which are managed by the Osage Minerals Council and the Sugarloaf Mound property in St. Louis.

During the meeting, Johnson briefed the committee on the proposed maintenance projects needing funding as part of ONCA 21-15. He noted the Hominy Industrial Park needs a chlorine injection station for water usage by the entities located at the property including the Nation’s Education Department, Food Distribution, the Hominy Osage Casino and the Dick Conners Correctional Center estimated at $25,000. Johnson noted the $1.2 million is not sufficient for all the proposed projects but would help start one for the Superintendent’s House with needed plumbing repairs and HVAC work. But the Superintendent’s House is in need of an overall remodel and those costs nearly total $1 million, he added.

Johnson also notes: There are existing Nation-owned buildings in need of handicap access, which is estimated to cost $100,000; a modular building in Fairfax that needs to be removed is estimated at $18,000; and a combined $520,000 is needed for work to start replacing the HVAC and elevator in the Capitol Building, but the actual costs will be higher.

“What we’ll do is prioritize everything that’s on this list and like has occurred prior, we’re getting ready to head into storm season, we’ll need to fix things immediately for the insurance to cover stuff,” Johnson said, adding “this $1.3 million should actually be around $3 million, but we’re going to work with what we’ve got and repair what we can in the meantime.”   

Other proposed projects on a list totaling $1.3 million provided to the Congress include: a new roof for the Pawhuska WIC building ($30,000); new ceiling and framed walls for the Wildland Fire Management building ($50,000); energy efficiency improvements at multiple buildings ($50,000); and geothermal system improvements at the Welcome Center and Law buildings ($60,000).

In other news on tribal funding, Standing Bear said in his executive message that he is in talks with the Gaming Enterprise Board to request another “true up” distribution of gaming revenue to the government as early as this spring, which would be proposed for helping cover more outstanding building projects and maintenance issues. Standing Bear said he hopes the distribution will be approved by April to avoid issues that have caused a prior $20 million “true up” distribution to be tied up due to Osage law and the money remains untouched pending completion of the Nation’s 2020 fiscal year audit. Discussions of the $20 million distribution status took place during the November and December special sessions when the Congress voted down two bills seeking to use some of that “true up” money for a proposed new Wakon Iron community building and chapel in the Pawhuska Village.

Standing Bear said: “Those of you who keep up with the gaming operations know we are exceeding expectations on budgets and the hard work of our people there (at the seven Osage Casinos) and we have asked that a ‘true up' not come at the end of the fiscal year where we have found there are legal issues causing those funds as they come in the last day of the fiscal year like this last year (to not be spent due to Osage law regarding annual audits needing completion). We have over $20 million we cannot access because of our own laws that we have imposed upon us. So, to avoid that problem, we have encouraged the gaming (board) to do a ‘true up’ estimate as soon as possible and they are trying by April to provide those funds then.”

The Congress voted 12-0 to pass ONCA 21-15 then adjourned the special session. The Congress next meets for its 24-day regular Hun-Kah Session scheduled to commence March 29.