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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on March 27th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 3 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 3

Change of funds

The future of Chumash grant funds is uncertain

BY CAMILLIA LANHAM

March is application time for law enforcement, road construction, fire departments, and paramedics in Santa Ynez, Solvang, Buellton, and Santa Barbara County, all looking to get a boost from the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians via the state through grants designed to help alleviate casino impacts.

Public service, safety, and infrastructure groups can get an annual monetary bump by applying for grant money earmarked to mitigate the effects of gambling, increased traffic, and alcohol on the areas closest to the Chumash Casino and Resort.

Buellton City Manager John Kunkel said the Chumash have traditionally funded a motorcycle officer position and a paramedic position through the fire department for Buellton.

“We get a lot of traffic through here on [California State Route] 246,” Kunkel said. “It has helped tremendously.”

He said traffic and accidents increased when the casino was put in, but since grant funding came in, the number of accidents has significantly decreased. Buellton asked for $180,000 to fund the motorcycle cop position in the most recent round of applications.

By May, each government entity should know whether it stands to gain a little extra. But no matter what happens, it’s not money the applicants can depend on year after year, because the amount of funding available for mitigation isn’t consistent. The pot has ranged between $1.4 million and zero since the casino was built in the mid-2000s. This year’s funds total a little more than $700,000, which is the same as the fund for 2011-2012.

Next year, however, there might not be any dollars to hand out.

Dennis Bozanich, assistant to Santa Barbara County’s executive officer, said while the Chumash are putting money into a gigantic state fund, they don’t get to decide how much of it is available for local governments; the California legislature does.

“It sort of fluctuates,” Bozanich said. “The tribes contribute to the fund on an ongoing basis … the state of California distributes it, and that’s always dependent.”

Dependent on what? It’s complicated.

The process starts with a compact a tribe makes with the state to allow gaming on a reservation. Based on the number of machines and card tables a reservation casino has, a tribe like the Chumash is required to put money into the Indian Gaming Special Distribution Fund every year.

California established the fund in 1999 and uses it to pay for things in a priority order.

First on the list is making up for a shortfall in the Indian Gaming Revenue Sharing Trust Fund, which allocates $1.1 million per year to every tribe in California that has either limited gaming or no gaming on its reservation. In other words, the fund takes money from the state’s wealthier tribes and gives it to the poorer ones. Gambling addiction and awareness programs get second priority. Paying for the California Gambling Control Commission and the Department of Justice to regulate gambling comes third.

Support for local governments, such as the grant Buellton uses to pay for their motorcycle cop, is last in line.

A report released by the California State Auditor in February 2011 said 12 compacts have been amended since 2004, “eliminating payments from some of the largest contributors to the distribution fund.”

The report estimates that because of that change, the annual revenue for the fund dropped by $100 million or more between 2006 and 2009. The state auditor’s office goes on to explain that those amended compacts have also reduced the payout coming out of the distribution fund for the shared trust fund, because those large contributors are now putting money directly into the shared trust fund.

However, the report also said the difference isn’t enough to offset the reduction in the distribution fund’s revenue, and that “the distribution fund is likely to exhaust its reserve sometime between fiscal years 2012-13 and 2014-15, depending on the level of expenditures.”

H.D. Palmer, deputy director of public affairs for the California Department of Finance, said the funding appropriated for local mitigation grants has dropped over the last three fiscal years. It was $30 million in 2010-2011, and $9.2 million for 2011-2012 and 2012-2013. Once the final number is decided for mitigation grants, the money is then allocated to counties with reservation casinos.

A committee with county, city, and tribe representatives then receives applications and gives grant money based on how relevant the need is to dealing with casino impacts.

In the 2010-2011 fiscal year, $1.4 million in mitigation grants funded the Santa Barbara County Sheriff for five deputy positions, the county fire department for a paramedic and a firefighter, Buellton for a motorcycle cop, and Solvang to begin survey work for widening the Alamo Pintado Bridge.

The 2013-2014 fiscal year shows less than half that $1.4 million to give out.

Should the mitigation grant funds dry up completely, the tribe is already looking at ways to at least continue funding for the county sheriff’s department, said Sam Cohen, the government affairs and legal officer for the Chumash.

He said he’s not sure exactly how things will work out with local mitigation fund availability in the next few years, but noted that some tribes are working on new gaming compacts with the state, and those could help the distribution fund’s fiscal shape.

“The situation may right itself in the next two to three years,” Cohen said. “Our challenge is getting through the next two to three years.”

Contact Staff Writer Camillia Lanham at clanham@santamariasun.com.