Updated 08/09/2012 07:05 PM
St. Lawrence County plans to sue Mohawk Tribe and New York State
When money is tight and the economy is down, municipalities say they need all the financial help they can get. And budgets get even tighter when counties don't receive money they were expecting. Two North Country counties say they've been in that position for two years, counting on millions of dollars from a tribal compact that never came. As our Cara Thomas tells us, St. Lawrence County is done waiting.
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ST. LAWRENCE COUNTY, N.Y. -- Beginning in 2007, the Akwesasne Mohawk Tribe had an agreement with the state of New York. As long as they had a casino and slot machines, they had to pay compact money to the state. But two years ago, that negotiation went sour.
St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Chief Ron LaFrance said, "There is a gaming establishment not too far from here and it's our contention that the state's known about it for a while and they didn't protect our interests."
According to tribe leaders, part of the agreement was that the Mohawk Tribe's casino had exclusivity to slot machines. But they found out they weren't the only tribe with slots in their casinos. Believing the state had breached contract, they stopped payments.
But legislators in St. Lawrence County don't see it that way. They've been expecting compact money for their budgets and say they've been shorted $3 million.
Legislator Mark Akins said, "When you're losing money and you have a hole in revenue, you have bigger issues than you had already planned for."
Last Monday, legislators made a decision to go after that money and pursue legal action. Not only against the tribe, but New York State as well. County officials say they've spoken with state and tribal leaders, but nothing has been done.
"We tried to reach out, we tried to work with them, we made it clear that we wanted this to move forward in a swift fashion to help the people of St. Lawrence County, unfortunately, neither side seem really willing to move forward in a way to help us quickly," said Legislator John Putney.
County officials have decided to hire the Wladis law firm from Syracuse to help them consider all their options. But the tribe says they think a lawsuit against them is a lost cause.
"I think that's what most people don't understand is that the tribe has no obligations to Franklin or St. Lawrence counties, it's the obligation of the state to make sure they receive their compact monies," said LaFrance.
Phone calls to state officials about the issue were not returned.