By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO June 20, 2006 In one of the oddest votes in recent memory, the Sullivan County Legislature approved a new agreement with the St. Regis Mohawks for their proposed casino at Monticello Raceway by a vote of 5-4.
The county previously had an agreement with the tribe for their proposed casino at Kutshers Sports Academy. The new agreement maintains the $15 million-a-year impact fee to the county, along with a pledge to remit all applicable sales tax on goods and services, except for transactions involving Native Americans.
According to County Attorney Sam Yasgur, the tribe will have to make a separate impact arrangement with the Village of Monticello and Monticello Joint Fire District.
The casino would be taken into trust by the federal government, putting it off the tax rolls. However, a hotel would be built on taxable land.
The contract can be renegotiated in seven years.
The tribe will also have to contract separate arrangements for emergency services and police protection.
Voting for the resolution were legislators Leni Binder, Jodi Goodman, Kathleen LaBuda, Jonathan Rouis and Sam Wohl. Voting against the agreement were legislators Chris Cunningham, Rodney Gaebel, Ron Hiatt, and Elwin Wood.
But Wood said he made a mistake. He said he meant to vote in support.
Wood stated that he didnt support five casinos but was in favor of one in order to promote growth.
The environmental and economic impacts of a casino on the site at the Monticello Raceway have been studied, and given their favorable report, I support the project and mitigation agreement with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, he said.
Hiatt opposed the agreement on the grounds that it did not do enough to prevent the poor and others dependent on social services from being barred from casinos.
The compact will prevent the casino from cashing welfare and social security checks and limit entry to those 21 and older. But Hiatt wanted more discreet language as to how the county would be able to prevent deadbeat dads and those on the verge of going on welfare from entering a casino.
Rouis said the countys Department of Family Services will be able to send a list to the casino that will bar certain recipients of county services from being able to cash checks or receive credit.
Hiatt replied that he wanted to exclude them from entering a casino entirely. Hiatt attempted to table the measure and withdraw the waiving of the rules which allowed the late-file resolution to be considered. Both were unsuccessful.
Hiatt voted in favor of five casinos last year with some of the conditions that were met by the agreement. LaBuda voted against five casinos last year but said on Thursday that she could support one.
Binder called the casino a necessary and positive force in an economy that depends on tourism.
Cunningham continued his longstanding opposition to gaming by stating that casinos are not the right thing for Sullivan County.
Wohl, a major supporter of gaming in Sullivan County, said, The St. Regis Mohawks will become a big player in our local economy. The positive economic spin-off from this casino will translate into new job opportunities for our residents, increased local commerce and a jumpstart to our tourism industry.
During public comment, Dave Colavito of Rock Hill a longtime member of Casino-Free Sullivan County expressed his passionate opposition to casinos and the plans of the St. Regis Mohawks. He called their plans deficient in that they did not provide a full environmental impact statement for that site.
The tribe has only submitted an environmental assessment to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and is currently responding to some of the federal agencys concerns.
Colavito said that with 5.9 million vehicles expected annually to visit the casino, there will be a major impact to the area.
The law requires a full environmental impact statement, he said.
He said the county should be working on sustainable development instead of approving agreements for a casino.
Dont fast-track the agreement, he said.
The agreement was also opposed by an attorney from Rhinebeck, speaking for the traditional Mohawk tribe, which claims the St. Regis Mohawks are an illegal outfit with no authority to make any deals with the county or the government. However, the U.S. government formally recognizes the St. Regis Mohawks.
On Friday, St. Regis Mohawk Tribe spokesman Brendan White said the tribe approved the new agreement on June 12.
The tribe is pleased that the agreement has been negotiated in good faith and that it addressed the local concerns, he said.
The tribe is in the midst of submitting a modified environmental assessment to the BIA. They hope to send the new form out this week. If the BIA issues a finding of no significant environmental impact, the tribe expects New York State Governor George Pataki to also sign off on the proposed casino.