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St. Lawrence, Franklin counties receive compact funds

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St. Lawrence and Franklin counties no longer have to wait with their hands outstretched for their share of tribal compact money released by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe to the state as part of a settlement agreement.

The transfer of $1.8 million each to St. Lawrence and Franklin counties — which will share the proceeds with the towns of Massena, Brasher, Bombay and Fort Covington – was made Tuesday afternoon, state Division of Budget spokesman Morris A. Peters said.

The money was eagerly awaited.

“We are in urgent need of these dollars,” Franklin County Manager Thomas Leitz said.

The state announced in May that it had reached an agreement with the Mohawk Tribe, which had not turned over the state’s 25 percent share of slot machine revenue since 2010 because of a claim its exclusivity was violated.

The deal means the state will not site a casino in the area claimed as exclusive by the Mohawks. The tribe will pay $30 million of payments owed and 25 percent of future gaming revenue to the state.

St. Lawrence and Franklin counties, along with the affected towns, will share $7.5 million in back payments. The first payment of $1.8 million each to St. Lawrence and Franklin counties was to come after plans for its use were approved by the state.

The money was intended for economic development activities, although St. Lawrence County officials have argued that it is a practice that should be eliminated in future rounds of funding.

“We submitted our plans immediately,” St. Lawrence County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire said.

Empire State Development — which reviewed the plans — had questions about the town of Brasher’s intent to use its money toward a highway barn but eventually approved the purpose, Ms. St. Hilaire said. Franklin County’s plans were also approved by ESD and forwarded to the Division of Budget.

The time lag may have seemed lengthy but was part of the state’s process, Mr. Peters said. Both counties will use some of the money to reimburse themselves for projects and programs that have already taken place.

“We did them on our own,” Mr. Leitz said.

No one knows what to expect with future payouts.

A payment of $1.87 million for 2011-12 was also announced, but when it will be available is unknown.

The agreement also jumpstarted discussions between the state, the tribe and local governments to resolve unrelated land claim disputes. A number of high-level meetings have been in the works, including one Tuesday in which St. Lawrence County Legislative Chairman Jonathan S. Putney, D-Waddington, Legislator Anthony Arquiett, D-Helena, and others went to Albany.

“We’re in negotiations and there are many factors that come into play,” Mr. Putney said.

Franklin County representatives have also consulted with the state in separate meetings to address land claims and their impact on back taxes and services provided by the county without a means of reimbursement, Mr. Leitz said.

“It’s complex,” he said.

A recent court ruling dismissed a majority of land claims in a suit filed by St. Regis Mohawks seeking the return of property in St. Lawrence and Franklin counties. But the so-called Bombay or Hogansburg Triangle in the middle of the St. Regis Reservation remains in play.

No one believes the ruling will mean an end to litigation, so the state and the tribe are trying to come to a negotiated resolution after years of court decisions, appeals and reversals, Ms. St. Hilaire said.

“Everything is on the table,” she said. “Thirty years is enough. Can we come to some resolution here?”

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