By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will carry a little less debt following a decision by Tribal Council on Tuesday, May 3. During its monthly Budget Council session, Tribal Council representatives approved legislation, submitted by Principal Chief Patrick Lambert, to pay off the loans associated with the construction of the new Waste Water Treatment Plant and the new Cherokee Indian Hospital.
The Tribe’s Debt Service Sinking Fund and Budget Stabilization Fund were used to pay off the two loans which totaled over $95,000,000. The total for the Cherokee Indian Hospital was $70,755,398, and the total for the Treatment Plant was $25,848,809.
“It’s a good idea to pay off these debts,” said Birdtown Rep. Travis Smith who moved to pass the legislation. He said it will be prudent for the Tribe to develop a process for paying debts in the future.
Yellowhill Rep. B. Ensley voted for the measure said many of his constituents feel that paying off debts is the way to go. “I don’t think the Tribe will ever be debt free,” he said adding that the Tribal Planning Board has several upcoming projects in the works. “We’ll have some debt, but it won’t be as major of a debt as we’re in now.”
Yellowhill Rep. Anita Lossiah voted against the measure along with Vice Chairman Brandon Jones. “We need to make sure that our debt versus investment ratio is decided upon so we can move forward in better planning regarding these large investments so that we can ensure that we have a surplus of funds for the upcoming projects and land purchases.”
She said the general growth rate for the Debt Service Sinking Fund is 7.2 percent. “Our rates of interest on both of our loans are very low. One is lower than two and one is lower than four percent. It is a really low percentage on the interest rate. Anytime you have a long-term debt, you want to look at the end result and you will have more money in the end once these loans are paid off if we leave it in there and go through the payment plan.”
Rep. Ensley said the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has been very fortunate. “We’ve been able to pay off our school system, our Hospital, our Waste Water Treatment System – that will take us 20 years down the road. We are a very fortunate group of people.”
Principal Chief Patrick Lambert praised Tribal Council’s action several days later during the Tribal Council session on Thursday, May 5. “Council, this week, took a very big step with us in paying off the debt. This is the first time in recent memory…that the Tribe is 100 percent debt-free. You should all be commended for that. Thank you for that.”
He added, “It’s almost a $100 million debt that we’ve gotten paid down for the Tribe to be debt-free.”
Chief Lambert related that a note-signing ceremony will be scheduled at some point during the week of May 9.