Local cities in line for mitigation money from Rohnert Park casino

  • Construction on the Rohnert Park casino continues on Thursday, September 27, 2012. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

An unexpected pot of cash for law enforcement agencies in four Sonoma County cities is at play in negotiations under way between the county and the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria over how to offset the impacts of the casino the tribe is building next to Rohnert Park.

A minimum annual payment of $416,918 is to be divided among Santa Rosa, which is due $286,923 a year; Petaluma, $102,591; Cotati, $12,808; and Sebastopol, $14,596.

Though overshadowed by the millions of dollars at stake in mitigation payments to the county -- and those also designated for Rohnert Park -- the amount is still significant, officials say.

"For a department our size, it's not inconsequential at all," said Chief Jeff Weaver of the 13-officer Sebastopol Police Department. It could fund overtime, educational or enforcement efforts, or equipment purchases, he said.

In budget-strapped Petaluma, City Manager John Brown said, "You're basically talking about buying an officer, or the better part of an officer. That's great. If there aren't strings attached, then I'd be happy to receive it."

The news of the required payments came as a surprise to Brown, as it did to his counterparts in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol.

Interim Sebastopol City Manager Larry McLaughlin laughed when told about the minimum yearly "crime impact mitigation" payment the city is to get.

"We knew nothing of it at City Hall," he said.

The payments are required by the 526-page Record of Decision document by which the federal National Indian Gaming Commission approved the casino project in 2010.

Buried deeply in that document, in the "Socioeconomic Conditions and Environmental Justice" section, the conditions are listed alongside others ordering the tribe to pay for gambling education and treatment programs, to train employees to recognize signs of domestic violence and locate ATMs out of sight of gambling tables.

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