OROVILLE, Calif. -- This is Part 2 of a two-part series on the status of the Indian Gaming Special Distribution Fund and what is at stake for local public safety agencies if the funds are not made available this year.
Local public safety agencies are concerned about the Indian Gaming Special Distribution Fund (SDF) this year with an estimated $2 million in grant funding from local casinos in Oroville, Calif., at stake.
Public safety agencies throughout the State were shocked last year to learn Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger blue-lined the budget and took $30 million out of the Indian Gaming SDF.
The Governor said a State Auditor found some SDF funds in other counties were not using funds for intended purposes, so he took the money out of the SDF until a bill was made to tighten regulations on the funds, according to H. D. Palmer, Deputy Director of State Finance.
Palmer said the auditor's report cited a number of cases where the SDF funds were not used to mitigate gaming impacts. For example, the auditor's report cites a case of the San Bernardino County Consolidated Fire District, who was awarded a $170,000 grant to buy a rescue/ambulance boat and hire more staff for holiday weekends.
"In its grant application, San Bernardino County officials stated that the influx of holiday visitors and recreational vehicles result in accidents on or near Lake Havasu. The Web site of the chamber of commerce of Lake Havasu City, Arizona, which is located directly across the lake from the casino, states that the major attractions to the area are the recreational activities offered by the lake, including boating, fishing, camping, and annual festivals, as well as the London Bridge, which was relocated to Lake Havasu City in 1971 and draws more than 500,000 visitors to the area each year. 'Therefore, it appears likely that the rescue/ambulance boat and additional staff will be used mainly for purposes other than those related to the casino,'" the State auditor's report said.
The SDF fund was established for the receipt and deposit of money received by the State from Native American tribes pursuant to the terms of their gaming compacts.
In Butte County, there are two tribes with active casinos paying into the SDF: The Berry Creek Rancheria (Gold Country Casino) and the Mooretown Rancheria (Feather Falls Casino). The two Rancherias contribute an estimated $2 million to the SDF fund.
Local public safety agencies are still holding out hope the Indian Gaming SDF will be made available for local grants this year. Their current grant funding runs out on July 1 and if there is no SDF grant money available this year, they will be facing major reductions.
Part 1 of this series discussed the impact of the loss of SDF funds on El Medio Fire, Butte County District Attorney's Office, Oroville City Fire, and Cal Fire-Butte County. In addition to those agencies, the following will also suffer cutbacks if the SDF funds are not made available this year:
The Butte County Sheriff's Office has two deputy sheriffs, one sheriff's clerk, two patrol cars, and the deputy equipment and training funded by Indian Gaming SDF. These personnel and resources are designated to work with both rancherias and casinos and would face layoffs.
The Oroville Police Department has depended on SDF grant money to fund staffing for records support that takes workload off the police officers.
"The outsourcing of typing memos and reports allows officers to dictate these documents from their patrol cars and saves a lot of their time and is more efficient," said Chief of Police Kirk Trostle.
There is a crime factor and transient population as many people from out of town visit the casinos, Trostle said. Thus, local law enforcement is impacted by the casinos and patrons in a variety of ways, such as drug trafficking, using stolen credit cards, vehicle and bus accidents, and motorists getting gas and driving off without paying, for example.
The Lake Oroville Area Public Utilities District General Manager Allen Brown said the SDF has twice funded their grant requests.
"This allowed us to make improvements to the Mooretown Pump Station that serves the Feather Falls Casino and to replace our trunk line crossing Foothill Boulevard that serves Gold Country Casino," Brown said. "The casinos and their expansions decreased our system capacity, contributing to the two projects needing to be built. They probably would not have been constructed at this time without the gaming funds."
What is happening to restore the SDF funds?
Assemblyman Albert Torrico introduced a bill AB 1389, which was written in response to the Governor's requests.
"The bill is still a work in progress," Torrico said. His message to firefighters and police officers who seek release of funds this year: "If you want the funds for the SDF released, tell the Governor. He took the money out of the budget when he blue-lined it," he said.
Torrico also said he has hope AB 1389 will be passed by both Houses and be on the Governor's desk to sign in six to eight weeks.
"I still have hope we can get it done," Torrico said. "There's still a chance we can get this bill signed and the funding released back into the SDF."
Butte County Compliance Officer Marion Reeves, who assists the Butte County Indian Gaming Local Community Benefit Committee, said originally there were two pieces of legislation in response to the governor's request: AB 132 and AB 1389.
Reeves' understanding is that AB 132 included language that restored funding for 2007/2008 fiscal year instead of being carried over.
"AB 1389 does make the changes the Governor requests, but does not include language to appropriate the money in fiscal year 2007/2008," she said.
However, Reeves acknowledged that since the Governor blue-lined the $30 million in the first place, then once a bill is passed that tightens the regulations and the Governor signs it, then the Governor could have the authority to release the funds back into the SDF for this fiscal year.
Reeves said a good website on California law is www.leginfo.ca.gov and the public can search for AB 132 (which did not survive), and AB 1389 (which still has a chance).
"Since the problem the Governor had was with the way the law was written, he stopped the program. So, now they require two things: 1) to amend the law (tighten restrictions) and 2) change the budget (to put the money back into the SDF for allocation)," Reeves said. "AB 132 tried to do both at once, and that legislation didn't survive."
When Reeves was told that Torrico said it is still possible to get the bill passed and signed by the Governor in the next six to eight weeks, so that there is no break in the SDF funding for this fiscal year, she acknowledged the Governor could have the power to restore the funds to SDF as he has promised once he has a good bill to sign.
"This is certainly what we hope to see happen," she said, adding: "I know the Board of Supervisors and California State Association of counties sent a letter to the Governor after he blue-lined the budget expressing their opposition to withholding those funds."
Reeves also said an informative website is on the Governor's budget Department with a link to Department 0855, California Gaming Control Commission for 2008/2009. "It provides a breakdown of the budget on dollars to be spent or not be spent," she explained.
Reeves said all the Indian Gaming funds throughout the State are collected into a giant fund and then divided up and distributed to the various regions based upon a formula, which includes number of slot machines, among other criteria, and an amount is then re-distributed back to the local communities from the State.
Reeves also expressed a concern over no funds yet included in the proposed 2008/2009 budget for SDF.
For more information about the local county Indian Gaming grant program, call 530-538-2867.
To contact Governor Schwarzenegger, see his website at: http://gov.ca.gov/interact
His mailing address is: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, State Capitol Building, Sacramento, CA 95814 Phone: 916-445-2841; Fax: 916-558-3160