At the regular meeting of the Pokagon-New Buffalo Local Revenue Sharing Board, Pokagon Band Attorney Mike Phelan and Township Attorney Dave Peterson addressed the board to review and clarify the LRSB by-laws, the State Compact Agreement and the Inter-local agreement.
Prior to the attorney presentation, two New Buffalo Township residents, Dave Stumm and former Township Clerk Paul Oselka, addressed the board on the behalf of the Township’s past Specific Actual Costs request for reimbursement for Police Protection.
It was stated in past LRSB meetings that based on SAC requirements, New Buffalo Township will not be awarded the 70 percent reimbursement for police protection as they have been in the past. New Buffalo Township has annually received approximately $470,000 to supplement the cost of contracting the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department for dedicated, 24/7 police protection in the Township. (In 2016, New Buffalo Township received $439,568.18 in SAC for police protection reimbursement.)
Stumm addressed the board saying, “I asked for the LRSB to consider amending today’s agenda in order to vote today to reimburse New Buffalo Township for all monies paid for the Township for police services for the eight month period from July 2016 to February 2017, with the understanding that no such future reimbursement will be made.” He said the Township has continued to spend taxpayer money for police protection, uncertain if it will be reimbursed. He added that the Township board has placed a millage on the May 2017 ballot to provide necessary funding for future police services, but in the past, the taxpayers have twice voted a police millage down.
The continued argument, or debate, is what Specific Actual Costs are and would the Township have a police department if the Casino were not here. The continued response from the representatives of New Buffalo Township and from Oselka and Stumm is that the Township would not have, nor would they be able to afford, police protection without the presence of the Casino, which was built in New Buffalo Township. The Township representatives have continued to argue that the Tribe requested that they have police protection prior to the casino opening to insure proper safety and traffic control. Oselka stated that at the time the casino was being planned it was determined that New Buffalo Township police protection would be an on-going deterrent to crime and provide for public safety. Oselka went on to say that the funding was always expected and intended to come from the LRSB. He stated, “It is completely unfair to New Buffalo Township and its residents for the LRSB to now revoke the funding for its police protection. The need for New Buffalo Township to have police protection has not ended. The casino is not going away and the casino is the reason the police protection was started in the first place.”
Oselka continued to say, “The big loser (for funds from the lack of the SAC distribution) is New Buffalo Township, and the big winner (from the redirection of the funds) is the New Buffalo Area Schools.” He also stated, if the SAC funds are not paid to the Township, New Buffalo Schools goes up to 40 percent of the total disbursements, (which include SAC, PILT and Discretionary funds), while New Buffalo Township goes down to a very meager 16 percent of the disbursement.” He added, “This is not an equitable situation in any way.”
Following the statement from Stumm and Oselka, the two attorneys reiterated what they have stated in past meetings, Specific Actual Costs must be documented as to how they are the result of services rendered because of the Casino. The requests must provide dates, times, specific costs incurred and any personnel involved in the event. Attorney Phelan again stated there is only one set of standards; “the applicants must demonstrate and provide proof for each application submitted and the costs are specifically related to the Casino.” He said, “It is the burden of the applicant to prove that increased operating costs, above and beyond their normal costs, are a result of the casino,” adding that “the standard must be applied year to year going forward,”
Attorney Peterson agreed with Phelan and with the standards outlined in the bylaws, he stated that the SAC requirements are in “black and white.”
Board member Ezra Scoot expressed his feeling of confusion as to why everyone has different interpretations of Specific Actual Costs.
Phelan stated that in the past, reimbursements were made based on LRSB policy, but they were not made by legal standards. He added, “Legal standards are different than policy. The board is expected to follow legal standards, [when awarding SAC reimbursement requests.]”
Despite comments supporting the Township’s SAC from Under Sheriff Chuck Heit and from Berrien County Administrator Bill Wolfe, the board did not vote on the matter. Board member Matt Weesaw stated, “There is nothing to vote on, there is no money.”
Tribal Representative Matt Weesaw said that he had stated in the October LRSB meeting that the Tribe’s position was very clear, they would not support further SAC requests that were not proven or requests that were determined by a percentage. Since all SAC requests must be voted on unanimously by the board, he felt that the Tribe had given notice that they would not support continued requests without specific documentation and proper paperwork for the event. “We have done it wrong in the past and it is not fair to local units of government,” he said, adding that he understood, “Our position is unpopular, but we must follow the letter of the law, not the spirit of the law.” He reiterated, “The Tribe’s position has always been to put the funds back into the communities as efficiently as possible.” The board also stated that any properly documented SAC requests, relating to police protection, would be considered for funding in the future.
Weesaw also stated that the New Buffalo Area Schools is the biggest recipient because they receive Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) for the sovereign casino land, which was taken off the tax rolls. Alternate Board member and School Board member Pano Arvanitis added that the school has never requested SAC funds and he stated that all the LRSB funds received are used to award scholarships to graduating NBHS seniors.
Arvanitis also stated, “The LRSB funds are a gift, we should all say, ‘Thank You’ to the Tribe.”
In other business, the board tabled the election of a Chair pending the addition of the New Buffalo Township board member Pete Rahm, joining the board. The election will be held at the March meeting at which time the board will also decide if they want to continue to hold monthly meetings throughout the year or if quarterly board meetings would be sufficient. It was stated that if an urgent issue arose, the board could call a special meeting.
The board approved the purchase of a printer for the administrative office in the amount of $129.99 and they approved contracting with Gerbel and Co., Certified Public Accounts, for the annual audit.
The next meeting of the LRSB is Tuesday, March 14 at New Buffalo Township Hall.