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Tribal compact settlement pleases officials

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Officials in St. Lawrence and Franklin counties are breathing a sigh of relief as they prepare plans to spend tribal compact money they have been expecting for years.

The state announced last month that it had settled a dispute with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, which had withheld the state’s 25 percent share of slot machine revenue since 2010 because its exclusivity was breached by a gaming operation run by the Ganienkeh Mohawks in Altona. About half of the money that had been withheld will remain unpaid pending resolution of long-standing land claims.

St. Lawrence and Franklin counties, along with the towns of Massena, Brasher, Bombay and Fort Covington, will share $7.5 million of the money expected to arrive shortly after plans for its use are submitted to the state and approved.

The money generally will go to reimburse accounts for programs paid for already or for projects waiting in the wings.

“By Monday, we will have our plan together,” St. Lawrence County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire said.

St. Lawrence is expecting $1.8 million for 2010-11, which it will use to reimburse accounts for economic development already done, such as for a trails coordinator, the county Chamber of Commerce, the county Industrial Development Agency and planners who worked on projects for the North Country Regional Economic Development Council.

“It doesn’t change our fund balance at all,” Ms. St. Hilaire said. “It’s already booked.”

However, the anticipated payment is more than expected, as the county had estimated it would receive $1.2 million in compact funds for that fiscal year, Ms. St. Hilaire said. The county estimated it would receive $1.5 million for 2011-12, but is slated to receive $1.87 million for that period as well.

The county decided for this year not to include any compact money in its budget, so any additional funds it might receive would be cash not already allocated.

“That will actually be money that we figure out what we can do with,” Ms. St. Hilaire said.

Franklin County Manager Thomas Leitz said the county will use part of its money to reimburse itself for $1 million toward the Enbridge St. Lawrence Gas pipeline. The county’s total pipeline contribution was set at $1.45 million, $452,000 of which it already paid. The county was going to borrow the remaining $1 million, but decided not to when officials heard the compact money was coming.

The town of Brasher will use its share of approximately $930,000 toward a town garage on County Route 53 in Helena.

“I think we should move ahead with this. We are slated to get casino gaming compact moneys, hopefully within 30 days,” Town Supervisor M. James Dawson said. “I would like to go to bid by the end of August. We have to get going on this thing if we’re going to do it this year.”

Massena is planning to divide its share of the proceeds among highway projects, equipment, airport improvements, the Business Development Corporation for a Greater Massena, the Greater Massena Chamber of Commerce and a town website.

The town of Bombay plans to spend compact funds on highway purposes, including equipment purchases and sidewalks, fire and rescue equipment to handle increased demand from the casino, improvement of a park for a farmers market, incentives for a natural gas line, and recreation, such as playground equipment and expansion of a walking trail.

Fort Covington officials have said they will use the money on a three-year action plan, to include housing and feasibility studies to determine what kinds of businesses to bring to the area.

Johnson Newspapers editor Ryne Martin and reporters Bob Beckstead, Arianna MacNeill and Amanda Trimm contributed to this report.

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