Supervisors approve Chukchansi draft MOU

The Madera County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Tuesday, that, if agreed upon by Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians leaders, could prove a key step in reopening the tribe’s casino.

Tribal approval of the MOU, along with federal and state agreements, are necessary before Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino can reopen after it was shut down in October out of safety concerns from a raid between rival factions.

The MOU covers tribal financial obligations to the county including law enforcement, fire protection, road improvements, economic development programs, alcohol education, and treatment and prevention of problem gambling disorders.

The first MOU between the tribe and county was agreed upon in August of 2001, and a revised MOU was written in Feburary, 2007. The revised 14-page MOU requires the tribe to pay the following:

* $3 million to cover three missed years of previously-agreed annual $1 million disbursements for public safety, including five sheriff deputies, three fire captains, and 10 firefighters to cover one fire engine and an aerial apparatus, as well as medical aid services for the casino 24 hours per day, seven days a week.

* $1.1 million one-time contribution towards the purchase of an aerial fire engine.

* $1 million annual payment to supplement the county’s budget for road maintenance and improvements projects.

* $1 million annual payment into the county’s budget for use at the county’s disclosure.

* $924,428 owed to the county in accordance with the 2007 MOU, through unpaid payments due to the casino closure.

* $250,000 paid to the county’s Department of Community and Economic Development, to be used on neighborhood housing, workforce programs, or other purposes.

* $75,000 annual payment to Cal Fire for use at Madera County Fire Station No. 8.

* $25,000 annually for the county’s Behavioral Helath Services for for alcohol education, and problem gambling.

The $1 million additional payment to the county’s general fund was included as a “catch all,” said Eric Fleming, Madera County Chief Administrative Officer.

“When there was a lot of turmoil, there was a lot of impact on staff resources,” Fleming said. “We were spending a lot of time on tribe-related issues, whether it was legal services, and administrative time. There were things not covered that we felt needed to be included.”

New items in the MOU would require the tribe to have the casino’s hotel participate in the county’s Transient Occupancy Tax Ordinance (TOT or bed tax), as well as the 2% Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) Assessment, and waive sovereign immunity with respect to the collection and payment of the tax from hotel room sales.

The current county hotel bed tax is 11%, and the TBID’s 2% hotel room tax goes to the Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau.

Monica Davis, who introduced herself as spokesperson for her tribal council (formerly Tex McDonald faction), voiced opposition to the hotel taxes, stating those requirements violate federal law and the tribe’s sovereignty.

Reggie Lewis, chairman of the federally recognized 2010 council, was not at the board meeting, but stated Davis does not have the authority to enter into any agreements with the county.

“Her group is not recognized by anyone but themselves,” Lewis said. “My council has been recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Interior Board of Indian Appeals, the National Indian Gaming Commission, The California Gaming Commission, and the governor’s office. We are currently in control of all he tribe’s financial dealings including education, housing, and anything associated with the federal government PL 638 funding which pays for various tribal benefits including fire protection, and some elder programs.”

Lewis said he was not aware of the revised MOU and did not receive prior notification as called for in the first MOU.

“We will take it in consideration, but in no way will we approve anything until our attorney looks at it,” Lewis said.

David Rogers, chairman of the Madera County Board of Supervisors, said copies of the MOU were delivered Tuesday afternoon to the two factions for them to review.

“We are preparing for the time the leadership issue is resolved,” Rogers said.

It appears the casino will remain closed until after a tribal council election on Oct. 3 takes place. A National Indian Gaming Commission spokesman told The Fresno Bee the commission will wait until a new council is seated to further prove leadership stability.