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After years of deferring major work on its creek pathways, Rohnert Park plans to spend a good chunk of $1.4 million in new funding to revitalize its 15-mile bicycle and pedestrian network, which is in need of repaving from overgrown trees and bunched blacktop.

The money is the first disbursement from the Graton Resort & Casino tied to the business’ success.

It is separate from the roughly $8.5 million guaranteed from the casino to the city annually to support public services.

The city has received quarterly payouts tied to that deal since the casino opened in November 2013 on the northwestern edge of Rohnert Park.

City officials were surprised the profit-driven payout came as soon as it did.

They’ve looked forward to the payment to help address deferred capital projects such as the creek paths and to create a grant program for neighborhood improvements.

“I really believe that this is something that no one in this room expected us to get for many years to come,” Vice Mayor Joe Callinan said at a recent council meeting. “But I think that we have an opportunity to fix some of our assets. Half of a million dollars will pave a big area of those creek paths, it really will, and that’s something we don’t normally have money for.”

The nonguaranteed payout also provides up to $1.1 million annually for each of the Cotati- Rohnert Park Unified School District, and for a charity selected by Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, which owns the casino. So far, the charitable contributions have gone to the Sonoma State University Foundation.

The City Council has decided to commit 40 percent of the new casino funding — $560,000 — to repair of paths along five creeks that traverse Rohnert Park. The paved pathways are popular recreational destinations and routes for schoolchildren, but have not seen any notable upgrades since recession-era budget cuts.

It’s not uncommon to come across areas where tree roots have created cracks and rough patches that are unsafe to path users.

Council members acknowledged that what should be a prized community amenity has in spots become dangerous to walk on, let alone ride a bike.

“The repairs are in arrears, let’s put it that way,” said Councilman Jake Mackenzie.

“They present a hazard, one might say, to bicyclists and they certainly don’t contribute to the aesthetics of the city.”

About $150,000 of the new casino funding will go to support a pair of city code enforcement positions. About $112,000 will help fund a project that would partner with a local nonprofit to repair homes occupied by seniors or disabled residents.

The City Council plans to set aside $297,000 to bolster the fund’s reserve.

Those allocations, initially endorsed at the Jan. 23 council meeting and discussed again on Tuesday, comprise the city’s Neighborhood Upgrade program, which draws all of its funding from the casino.

One city resident, Jim Duffy, said the money would be better off spent to support development of new workforce housing. Duffy, a resident of Rohnert Park since 1999, said he has seen many friends leave because of the increasing cost of housing.

“It should always have workforce housing in there, that’s what it was established for,” he told the council at its Jan. 23 meeting. “And I’m not talking ‘poor people’ housing. There are just not apartments or condos for people who are making median wage in Rohnert Park.”

The council stuck with their recommendations on spending, which are up for additional public discussion in April and set for adoption in budget hearings in June.

The remaining share of the new casino money, $300,000, was directed by the tribe to the city’s foundation, overseen by the City Council.

Acting in that capacity on Tuesday night, the council settled on dividing the amount into thirds: $100,000 toward one-time nonprofit grants of $5,000 for civic work; $100,000 for underfunded city projects including neighborhood projects; and the remainder split to cover waived fees for community groups renting city premises and the fund’s reserve.

The preliminary spending decisions reflected the council grappling with two goals, council members said: redistributing the casino money into the community while also holding on to some to prepare Rohnert Park for any economic downturn that could affect city coffers and the casino’s revenue.

“There is a historical aspect to this,” said Mackenzie.

“The idea was that we would distribute monies. I don’t believe that the idea was we’d build up a large capital fund. But I think we’re reminded that this is one-time money and it depends upon the continued success of the casino operations, from year to year. So it presents to me an interesting dilemma.”

The $8.5 million guaranteed annual payout from the casino is designated to fund law enforcement officers and staff, gambling addiction assistance programs and general services including upgrades to the city’s stormwater system.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or at kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @kfixler.

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