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Missing compact money impacts municipalities

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CANTON - St. Lawrence County has received $334,00 from a gaming compact owed from 2009 but officials fear a dispute between the state and St. Regis Mohawk Tribe over exclusivity rights and the state’s plan for non-Indian casinos means the end to any more money, including a total of $5.5 million for the county, Massena and Brasher that is in 2011 and 2012 budgets.

“The state is in dispute with the Mohawk tribe. We are not,” said Massena Supervisor Joseph D. Gray. “The compact says we’re entitled to a percentage of the slot drop. For the state to withhold the money is inexcusable. I think we should take legal action, actually.”

The compact requires the tribe to send a portion of its revenues from the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino to the state. The state then shares a portion of the money with St. Lawrence and Franklin counties, which in turn split up some of their allotments to the towns of Massena, Brasher, Fort Covington and Bombay.

Tribal officials stopped paying the state in late 2010 because of an unauthorized gaming facility operating slot machines on Ganienkeh Territory in Altona. That is also a Mohawk operation although not under the control of the St. Regis Tribe.

“For reasons known only to the state, they chose to ignore the existence of a very publicly advertised gaming operation located within 45 minutes of the tribe’s existing gaming operations. According to our contract with the state, the result is that the tribe is no longer obligated to make payments,” the tribe said in a statement.

“The state has made no further efforts to resolve the matter, or to take the matter to arbitration. The state has not got back in touch with us after we submitted our list of arbitrators. They have basically ignored our attempts to settle our issues.”

Tribal officials acknowledged the dispute is impacting its neighbors. “We are sympathetic to the impact of this state action on local communities, but it is an issue they need to take up with the state,”according to the tribe’s statement. “Unfortunately, because Albany chooses to ignore its responsibilities under the contract, it is our neighbors who pay the price economically.”

County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire said she has been told the tribe has placed the money it owes communities in escrow.

Franklin County received $334,000 as well from the state. The money for 2009 was the difference between what the state had already paid and what it later determined it still owed.

The question of what will happen with the compact has been further complicated by the state’s plan to expand casino gambling.

In its statement, the St. Regis Tribe said it had no control over what the state does.

“However, it will cost the state a tremendous amount of capital to achieve what Indian casinos have in New York,” it said.

The impact of the absent money is large.

The county expected $2.5 million for 2011 and $3 million for 2012. It keeps half and splits the rest between Massena and Brasher.

“We allocated that money and spent it,” Ms. St. Hilaire said. “We’ve handled it as every other account receivable.”

The money, which is intended for economic development activities, has gone for such purposes as the county Industrial Development Agency, the county Chamber of Commerce, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and about 20 other agencies.

A lack of funding in Massena means various projects will not be paid for in 2012, including paving of a town road to the casino and summer jobs at the Eisenhower Lock gift shop that is operated by the Greater Massena Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Gray said.

If a resolution does not come soon, the county will probably no longer include the funding in future budgets but that does not address how to pay for programs that have been supported by the compact.

“If we’re going to fund those activities, how are we going to pay for them?” Ms. St. Hilaire said.

Franklin County has held off making plans.

“You can’t spend what you don’t have,” said County Manager Thomas Leitz.



Staff writer Andy Gardner contributed to this report.

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