Tuolumne Me-Wuk paying casino's way



and The Associated Press

California and some of its local governments have been looking for more control over Indian casinos in order to make them pay their way.

But at least one Tuolumne County tribe is credited with voluntarily paying its share and more.

The Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk one of the 61 legally recognized tribes that signed gambling compacts with the state already has a wealthy relationship with the county.

In January, Gov. Gray Davis proposed collecting money from American Indian casinos as a way to help pay down the state's estimated $34 billion deficit. State officials are hoping to gain some revenue by renegotiating 3-year-old gambling compacts signed with tribes. Casinos in California generate an estimated $5 billion a year according to the state a figure tribes call inflated.

The discussions started at the beginning of the month and are continuing.

County officials throughout the state have said some tribes signed compacts but went on to disregard local building, fire and other codes.

The Tuolumne Me-Wuk tribe, which opened Black Oak Casino on North Tuolumne Road in May 2001, however, is considered by many to be a good neighbor that has created jobs and more than pays for any effects the casino has on the community.

"The Tuolumne Me-Wuk already pay approximately a million dollars a year to mitigate off-site impacts," said Tuolumne County Counsel Gregory Oliver.

So far, the Me-Wuk's payments to the county have included:

? $300,000 per year to the Tuolumne Fire Protection District;

? $550,000 initially and $90,000 per year for county roads;

? $200,000 initially and $250,000 per year for law enforcement;

? $10,000 each per year to county departments of mental health, medical and emergency services;

? $352,666 initially to the Tuolumne City Sanitary District;

? $17,000 per year for sewer service;

? and $9,005 per year to the county in lieu of property taxes on the casino. Because American Indians are sovereign on their own lands, tribes are not required to pay property taxes to the state.

The Union Democrat
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