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Rohnert Park faces great unknown when casino opens Nov. 1

Rohnert Park officials are scrambling to prepare for a great unknown that has been years in arriving — what will happen when a 24-hour, 3,000-slot-machine casino opens on the west edge of the city?

"We have no idea what the impacts will be," Vice Mayor Joe Callinan said Tuesday as the council reviewed the report of a city task force that is trying to answer that question.

After a decade of controversy, environmental studies, lawsuits and bureaucracy, the $800 million Graton Resort & Casino is expected to open Nov.1, Assistant City Manager Darrin Jenkins told the council. Traffic congestion, the rate of certain crimes including traffic violations and "vice," and requests for emergency aid are expected to rise in tandem.

The task force's plan, Jenkins said — which is essentially to create a new city department — is intended to address changes that will occur immediately after the casino opens, a long-anticipated event that, in many quarters, has been long-dreaded, too.

"This is not the plan for next year and the year after; this is just for this first coming year," Jenkins, who heads the task force of city officials, said prior to the Tuesday meeting. "We're working on a plan for the future."

Under a $251 million, 20-year revenue-sharing deal with the casino's owner, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, money started flowing into city coffers last week with a $2.6 million payment. The first of four payments totaling $500,000 is due in July, for public safety purposes.

That is to last until July 2014. After that, the city is to get roughly $11 million a year. The tribe has a separate deal with Sonoma County under which the county is to get at least $9million per year.

Council members, who are confronting a $2.3 million general fund deficit next fiscal year, on Tuesday sought to tamp any expectations that the money could help shore up the city's finances.

"If the public's listening, this is not extra money," Mayor Pam Stafford said. "This is money for mitigation."

The city task force proposed opening a "special revenue fund" to account for all payments from the tribe, which will be issued through the state, and their expenditure.

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