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MailTribune.com
  • Casino fight looms over Medford finances

    City Council approves $260 million budget, but legal battle could eat into contingency fund
  • The City of Medford put the stamp on a $260 million budget on Wednesday, but not after cutting out a portion expected to be used in a long legal battle with an Indian tribe hoping to build a casino within city limits.
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  • The City of Medford put the stamp on a $260 million budget on Wednesday, but not after cutting out a portion expected to be used in a long legal battle with an Indian tribe hoping to build a casino within city limits.
    The biennial budget avoids any layoffs and requires that various departments scale back demands for materials and equipment.
    However, an ongoing issue with the Coquille Indian Tribe over its proposed casino along South Pacific Highway will surely eat into a chunk of the legal and contingency funds.
    City Manager Eric Swanson said $25,000 already has been used to secure outside legal counsel in the Coquille disagreement. He expects this bill to increase significantly before the issue is settled.
    Councilor Dick Gordon predicted an expensive legal tussle with the Coquille.
    "I wouldn't be surprised if legal fees hit $300,000 to $500,000," Gordon said. "I see this is a long, protracted process."
    In the end, slightly more than $132,000 was set aside for the casino fight. If the fees exceed this amount, then money might need to be taken from the city's contingency fund, Councilor Al Densmore said.
    He added, however that he hopes the matter doesn't come make that necessary.
    "All of this was more or less put in our lap," Densmore said. "It wasn't as if we did something to provoke a legal fight."
    The tribe proposes a video-gaming operation at the Roxy Ann Lanes bowling alley and the former Kim's Restaurant along South Pacific Highway. The tribe also agreed to lease Bear Creek Golf Course, adjacent to the two buildings.
    There was some talk at the meeting of lowering the money set aside for the casino battle to $100,000. City Attorney John Huttl suggested a higher amount.
    Huttl said he'd studied similar situations in which cities have fought proposed casinos in court. He said the legal maneuvering could last years before all is said and done.
    The tribe has asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs to place the 2.42-acre property in a U.S. government trust. That would start a process that could lead to reservation status for the site.
    The Bureau of Indian Affairs will decide on whether the tribe has legal standing to claim sovereign land within city limits in which to build the casino.
    Densmore hopes the federal government will rule against the tribe in this situation.
    "We hope we have taken the legal steps necessary to convince the government that the legal theory the tribe is operating under is not correct," Densmore said. "The most difficult part is we don't know how long the process might be."
    A handful of smaller budget issues were decided at the end of the meeting. The city's finance department will add a new account position that will cost $170,500 for two years. The City also agreed to continue contracting with the Addictions Recovery Center to a lot space for people in mental crisis and those who are under the influence of drugs and alcohol and cannot take care of themselves. This will cost $96,000 over two years.
    Finally, the city will chip in $16,000 to continue supporting the Southern Oregon Meth Project, an educational program intended to keep kids from using methamphetamine.
    Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.
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