U.S. law exempts Indian reservations from state and local laws and taxes, so when the 156-acre Cowlitz Indian Reservation was taken into trust in 2010, local governments lost part of their tax base. But agencies such as the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and Clark County Fire & Rescue provide ilani with services.
Before the casino’s grand opening two years ago, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe made commitments to local governments promising payments to offset its impacts. Speaking at a Clark County Council meeting, Philip Harju, the tribe’s vice chair, said the tribe was ready to make good on its promises and had paid out more than $602,000 since 2015. Of that, he said $195,661 went to the county, Clark Fire & Rescue received $102,328, and Ridgefield School District received $252,000, among others.
While ilani has made good on these payments, Clark County is still working out the details on how to apportion its share of the money. A member of the tribal council recently brought the tribe’s past commitments to the attention of county officials, who had overlooked the agreements after leadership turnover at the county.
Clark County Manager Shawn Henessee said that he appointed himself to a five-member committee set up by the tribe that will oversee a fund intended to mitigate the impact of the casino on infrastructure and other government services. He said that the committee has a “long, convoluted history” and the county hasn’t been fully aware of it. He said the fund consists of approximately 2 percent of the casino’s revenue and that he didn’t know how much has been paid from it.
The tribe also set up a committee to oversee the arts and education fund, which Henessee said is between $1.4 million and $2 million. He said the committee hasn’t met yet but that council Chair Eileen Quiring and Councilor Temple Lentz have been appointed to it.
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The tribe also promised to pay $50,000 annually (an amount that adjusted by the consumer price index) for a problem gambling program of the county’s choosing. Henessee said that the tribe has been making payments to an existing program and that the county’s Community Services Department is looking into it.
Amelia Shelley, the executive director of the Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries, said that the district received a check for $28,956.67 from the tribe in March to account for lost property tax revenue between 2015 and 2019.
Brent Grening, CEO of the Port of Ridgefield, said that the port has received $13,000 in payments in lieu of taxes promised by the tribe for the last six years.