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Cascade Locks anticipates cash flow from casino

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

May 7, 2005

The City of Cascade Locks expects to more than double its $1 million of general fund dollars within four years if a proposed tribal gaming casino becomes a reality.

And the Port of Cascade Locks will be able to climb out of its budget hole with a sale of land for more than 150 times its appraised value. In addition, the port has negotiated a 99-year lease for the facility’s parking lot that will annually double the agency’s net cash flow.

“By the community forming a partnership with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs early on, rather than trying to fight the project, we have ended up being more successful at mitigating our concerns,” said City Manager Robert Willoughby.

He and Chuck Daughtry, port director, outlined monetary advantages the casino would bring to citizens of Cascade Locks at the special meeting on Thursday. Municipal, county and tribal officials had scheduled the “Planning Our Future” forum to update residents on the casino proposal in hopes of addressing their concerns.

Will Carey, city attorney, took the podium to provide background on the six and one-half year process to get a Memorandum of Agreement in place between the city and tribe. He said the city learned in 1998 that the tribe was looking toward Cascade Locks for a casino and the instant response of officials, following community surveys of approval, was to cooperate as fully as possible. Because of the “respectful” interaction between all of the involved parties, he said the citizens had gained huge economic benefits. Willoughby said all of the documents involved in that negotiating process were available for public review at the city administration building.

About 110 people gathered in the pavilion at Port Marine Park to hear from five speakers. The event was scheduled following Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s April 6 approval for a 500,000 square foot gaming center within the port-owned industrial park. Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, that proposal has to be approved or denied by Interior Secretary Gale Norton in a timeline that ends on May 22.

“I have done a lot of research on casinos and visited a lot of locations where they were sited. And one of the things I have discovered was that the better the relationship was in the beginning (between tribe and local governments) the better it was once the casino got going,” said District 1 County Commissioner Carol York.

She said most counties had to provide tax breaks to draw in large employers — but the opposite had proven true with the agreements for the Cascade Locks casino. The Warm Springs has pledged to access city utility services and pay the market rate, which Willoughby said will fund needed system improvements. In addition, the annual property assessment on 60 leased and purchased acres for the casino — based on a $250 million investment — will put $676,250 in the city’s coffers for general services, with an annual three percent increase. In addition, the county will gain another $354,225 for essential services, such as road maintenance and public works.

The transient room tax charged to visitors for staying at the casino is expected to generate five times the revenue the city currently collects from area motels and campgrounds.

Willoughby said not only was Cascade Locks going to be a major recipient of a Community Benefit Fund totalling about six percent of net casino revenue, it was going to gain $300,000 for a new fire/ambulance station. The tribe has also offered $432,000 annually for the wages of police, fire and ambulance personnel.

Daughtry said that $20 million paid by the tribe for a new freeway interchange to the casino site will open the door for more economic development. Currently the industrial park is only accessible over an at-grade railroad crossing that has limited business growth because of safety concerns and traffic delays. The port also plans to realize $75,000 for each of the 25 acres where the casino is located. An additional $328,000 per year will be paid for the lease of 35 acres used as a parking lot, with an annual two percent minimum increase.

During the first 10 years of operation, the Cascade Locks casino is expected to generate a cash flow to the tribe of about $580 million, or $300 million after payment of construction loans. Once these loans are paid off, beginning in year eight, the estimated tribal income will be $123 million per year.

Dennis Karnopp, attorney for the Warm Springs, said Mid-Columbia residents would fill many of the 400 temporary construction jobs and about 1,400 permanent positions. He said a non-profit foundation set up by the tribe and state is charged with distributing an estimated $265 million during the first 10 years of the casino’s operation.

Eighty-five to 90 percent of those funds are earmarked for financial assistant to Oregon students, 5-10 percent for projects, including land purchases, benefiting the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, and five percent dedicated to economic development projects in depressed areas of the state. During the two-hour forum, citizens submitted topics for discussion at future community meetings that will be held within the next few months.

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