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Fri., Sep. 19
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Dawson wants more involvement in casino compact money talks

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BRASHER FALLS - Since his town is the recipient of casino gaming compact funds, Brasher Town Supervisor M. James Dawson says he and officials from other municipalities that receive the funding should have more involvement in talks to restore it.

During Wednesday’s town board meeting, Mr. Dawson sparred with St. Lawrence County Legislator Anthony J. Arquiett, D-Helena, over what he felt was a snub during talks with representatives from the governor’s office in Albany and, more locally, with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe.

Mr. Arquiett said legislators and county officials had traveled to Albany to speak with representatives from the governor’s office about the funding.

More than $12 million is owed to St. Lawrence and Franklin counties and the towns of Massena, Brasher, Bombay and Fort Covington after the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe held up funding over an exclusivity dispute with a slot machine operation on Ganienkeh Territory in Altona.

The $12 million represents the counties’ and towns’ combined shared of proceeds from the reservation’s casino.

Since he last talked with Brasher Town Board members about the issue, Mr. Arquiett said legislators have agreed to retain Wladis Law Firm to advise the county and to represent it should it decide to sue in the dispute.

“The county has retained a legal firm to represent us in this issue,” he said.

Mr. Arquiett said they had also contacted representatives from the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe. County officials met recently with tribal representatives, including newly elected chief Paul O. Thompson. Included in the talks were whether the tribe and county could work their own deal.

“The tribe suggested a couple of things the county might look at to make it more of an expedient process,” he said.

The lack of casino gaming compact money has hurt the county as they craft their budget, according to the county legislator, as has “losses of some of our major industries and tax bases.”

“We are finding ourselves in a detrimental situation with our budget,” with an $8.6 million shortfall, Mr. Arquiett said. “Our inability to utilize tribal compact money is a huge obstacle in our budgeting process.”

He said the $12 million owed by the state has created financial havoc for the county.

“It’s a very difficult pill to swallow to be this far behind when we pay our bills on time,” he said.

Mr. Dawson said that, while he would like to see a resolution to the stalemate over the casino compact money, he thought others outside of the county level should be involved in talks.

He told Mr. Arquiett he had left a message for county Administrator Karen St. Hilaire after hearing that she and Legislative Chairwoman Sallie A. Brothers, D-Norfolk, had met with members of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council.

“Why do you keep pushing the supervisors, Mr. (Joseph D.) Gray and yours truly, out of the picture? Why don’t you include us? You just brush us aside,” he said.

“We’ve not been involved. It would be nice if we could have gotten together. I’m thinking Franklin and St. Lawrence counties should be united in this and not divided. I’m saying it too bad Franklin and St. Lawrence counties and supervisors are not in this together,” Mr. Dawson told Mr. Arquiett.

He suggested that, with everyone at the table with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, “maybe we could do something to help fulfill their expectations. I don’t know what their expectations are. We’re the recipient of their displeasure with the state. We just happen be caught in the middle of it.”

Mr. Arquiett said the meeting with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe was simply to meet the new chief who had just been elected.

“Compact money is not what the agenda was,” he said.

At the same time, Mr. Arquiett said, “we’re doing everything we can to recoup those funds.”

Mr. Gray said he understood Mr. Dawson’s frustration, but was willing to cut a little more slack to the county. He didn’t know where the county’s discussions with the Wladis Law Firm stood.

“The county hasn’t been real skillful in their management of the situation,” he said.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office has “exacerbated” the problem by refusing to pay the counties and towns and is “hiding behind” the tribal government’s withholding of payments. The state owes the counties and towns money either way per the terms of the compact, Mr. Gray said.

“This whole thing could go away real quick,” Mr. Gray said.”It is his administration’s refusal to give us our money. They know they’re wrong. They don’t want to admit it.”

Brian Hayden contributed to this report.

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