Millions at stake as Rohnert Park-area fire agencies weigh how to divvy casino payouts

Talks are under way about how three fire agencies should divide a one-time $1.5 million payment that the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria is giving to Sonoma County to address impacts from the casino being built outside Rohnert Park.

That issue's resolution likely will define how Central Fire, the Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District and Rohnert Park's public safety department will split an additional $1 million that the tribe is to pay for fire protection services each year for the next 20.

"The approach has been, 'How can we build a system that benefits everybody,'" said Doug Williams, chief of Central Fire, which includes the Rincon Valley and Windsor departments.

He said his preference would be to integrate the responses more between the three agencies.

The money for fire services is being funneled to the agencies through the county, which in October reached agreement with the Graton Rancheria on a 20-year revenue-sharing deal. Under that deal, the tribe is paying the county at least $9 million a year to offset impacts from the 3,000-slot machine casino it plans to open this year.

Board of Supervisors Chairman David Rabbitt, whose 2nd District encompasses the casino, said it is essentially up to the fire agencies to arrive at the right formula.

"I don't think we want to micro-manage where it goes, other than to make sure that the additional workload is going to have a dollar amount assigned to it that's going to be sufficient for all of them to provide the services required," Rabbitt said.

Williams is leading the discussion between the agencies because the casino, now rising on 66 acres along Wilfred Avenue, is within the Rincon Valley department's jurisdiction.

He has suggested that for casino-related calls, a computerized program could be set up to dispatch the agency with the closest fire engine at the time — instead of always making Rincon Valley the first responsible for the call.

The negotiations take place against the backdrop of a $251 million revenue-sharing deal reached last week between the tribe and Rohnert Park. The deal amended a 2003 agreement and spells out that the tribe is to pay for a new Rohnert Park fire station and ladder truck, as well as $7.36 million a year that can be used for services including public safety.

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