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Irrigation board changes building locks

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ST. IGNATIUS – The Flathead Joint Board of Control continues to work on issues stemming from an internal investigation into missing monies.

The board hired an accounting firm in April to look through the books concerning operations, procedures, and accounting for the last three years, from 2014 to 2016, after discrepancies were discovered. People who have read the initial report stated that about $200,000 is missing, but documents verifying that amount haven’t yet been released. 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation took over the case in May. It was reported during the June 13 regular meeting that the board copied their computer’s hard drive in preparation for the FBI to take possession of the machine. Locks on the building were also changed as a precautionary measure. 

FJBC Chairman Ray Swenson said another computer was ordered so that the board can continue office operations. He asks people to have patience while board members reorganize office duties and set up another computer. A new sign in sheet for people wishing to receive email updates about meetings is also being developed. It was recommended that people add their name in writing to the list at the district office. Regular board meetings are set for the second Tuesday of each month at 1 p.m. 

Chairman Ray Swenson said that the board is working to put even  “more eyes” on the money every month. The board decided to take precautions by requiring that two members from each district sign the checks from their district. They are also working out how to get a monthly financial report. 

The board is in the process of hiring a new executive manager to do clerical work like answer phones and take meeting minutes. The board voted to remove former Executive Manager Johanna Clark after the initial investigation, although formal reasons for dismissal are being held until the investigation is finished. Board members are currently sharing those duties. Accounting duties have been outsourced to an independent firm instead of in house.

In other news, the board discussed an increase of $7.50 per irrigable acre in operations and maintenance fees for 2018. Flathead Indian Irrigation Project Manager Pete Plant said the funds would be used to hire more employees, create a savings account for emergencies and develop a program within the project for weed control. 

The increase was put on the Federal Register for rate adjustments with the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. Comments concerning the issue were collected from the public until the June 20 deadline and will be considered as the BIA makes their final decision on the issue. Swenson noted that agriculture has been economically difficult in the past year for farmers and the increase might create a hardship. Several irrigators have created a letter protesting the increase.

Concerning the board’s annual academic scholarship, they voted to award Tristan Thingelstad $550. It was noted that Thingelstad has a background in farming. The remaining $650 of the scholarship fund is going into an account for future scholarships. Board members donated one month of FJBC income to create the scholarship, which is $100 each. Thingelstad was the only person to apply for the scholarship, and board members said they would like to see more applicants next year.  

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