2017-02-09 / Local News

Tribal gaming payouts don’t include affordable housing

By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

Leelanau County won’t be getting any money from the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians to help pay for a study to address the impact of local regulations on new housing developments.

In December, the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners decided in a 7-0 vote to ask the tribe for $15,000 in “2-percent” casino revenue funding to pay for the proposed $17,000 study, overseen by the county’s Planning and Community Development department.

The study was to have become a centerpiece of the County Board’s renewed goal of facilitating the availability of more affordable “workforce” housing in Leelanau County in 2017.

Officially, the tribe will announce recipients and amounts of “2-percent” funding during a press event tomorrow morning at the tribe’s Grand Traverse Resort in Acme. The announcements will be heralded by traditional Native American drumming and singing as recipients of the funding are handed checks and publicly express their gratitude to the tribe.

However, Leelanau County officials have already been notified of decisions for county requests.

Under terms of a 1993 federal court consent decree, the tribe must pay out two-percent of its slot machine revenues twice yearly to local units of government in the immediate vicinity of its two casinos — the Leelanau Sands Casino in Peshawbestown and the Turtle Creek Casino in Grand Traverse County’s Whitewater Township.

The tribe pays no property taxes on its two casinos or on any of the reservation land held in trust for the tribe by the federal government. The 2-percent allocations are intended to pay local units of government for governmental services they provide to the tribe.

Tribal officials have interpreted language of the court order to mean that they can allocate the funding to any unit of government or any non-profit organization whose application is endorsed by a local unit of government within the tribe’s six-county service area. The number of requests always exceeds the amount available. The Tribal Council has sole discretion in how to allocate the money.

The tribe has approved funding for two of the six funding requests it received through the Leelanau County government. The tribe will allocate $20,000 to Leelanau Christian Neighbors (LCN), a religious ministry that operates a food pantry and an “unmet needs” financial assistance program to needy Leelanau County residents.

A deeply divided County Board voted 4-3 to approve the LCN request, which came through the county Senior Services Department because that department provides services similar to those provided by LCN. The department will be required to help administer the funds for LCN.

The tribe will also fund a $5,000 request from the county administrator’s office to fund a mid-Michigan Honor Flight program for aging veterans. The program underwrites visits to Washington, D.C. by local veterans so they can view monuments and war memorials.

Several other “2-percent” requests the County Board forwarded to the Tribal Council for consideration last month were not approved. Requests were for:

 $7,121 for the Leelanau County Sheriff’s office to purchase a radar trailer.

 $26,000 for the county Equalization Department to pay for updated “aerial orthoimagery” in 2017.

 Funds for the county’s Parks & Recreation Commission to purchase equipment for use at county parks — a late request.

According to a tribal “Media Alert” announcing the Friday, Feb. 10 event in Acme, a total of $884,873 in “2-percent” funding will be paid out in the current allocation cycle. Fifty-six checks will be distributed to local organizations receiving the funding.

Since the “2-percent” allocations began in 1994, the tribe has paid out $35,571,179 to local units of government and nonprofits, according to a tribal news release.

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