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County won’t oppose casino plan in Airway Heights

WEDNESDAY, AUG. 18, 2010

Tribe would build facility on land to be annexed by city

A second tribal casino in Airway Heights would pay out for Spokane County under a deal county commissioners approved Tuesday on a split vote.

With Commissioner Todd Mielke dissenting, the commission agreed not to oppose the Spokane Tribe’s bid to open a casino on 145 acres of tribal land to be annexed by Airway Heights.

Commissioner Bonnie Mager dissented in another 2-1 vote authorizing the sale of up to $90 million in bonds.

The bonds are mostly for construction of a sewage treatment plant and to lend money for a medical research complex, but Mager objected to a $588,500 portion to realign the road course at the Spokane County Raceway.

Bond attorney Roy Koegen assured Mager that her vote wouldn’t affect the success of the sale.

Commissioners were unanimous in approving a deal to give Airway Heights 45 acres of the raceway grounds and first right of refusal on 26.8 additional acres in exchange for sewer and water service to the raceway and a 50 percent share of the city’s admission tax, which it will collect from the raceway.

The county will use its share of the tax to improve the raceway, which largely generates the tax. Airway Heights must approve raceway projects supported by the shared tax.

The city plans to develop a sports complex on the land, possibly including playing fields, an RV park or a YMCA fitness center. It also plans to use the land for underground reservoirs that will discharge treated water from a $45 million sewage treatment plant scheduled to open next summer.

Mager enthusiastically supported the agreement and took the lead in negotiating the deal because Airway Heights and the raceway are in her commissioner district.

Mielke said commissioners should conduct a public hearing before acting on the casino plan.

Commissioner Mark Richard said he is “not a fan of gaming, but it is a legal activity.” Also, he saw the deal as “righting a wrong” in which the Kalispel Tribe got permission for a casino in an area more closely associated with the Spokane Tribe.

Until a casino is federally approved, the deal calls for the Spokane Tribe to make annual payments to Airway Heights and Spokane County that will rise over 10 years from $14,500 to $29,000. The county will receive 80 percent and the city 20 percent until the land is annexed. Then the split would be reversed.

After a casino receives federal approval, the tribe will instead make payments that increase $100,000 a year, starting at $600,000 and climbing to $1.5 million – to be split between the city and county on the same basis.

The payments are intended to compensate the governments for services to the tribe’s untaxable land.

“We wanted to be good neighbors and work with the county and the city of Airway Heights,” tribal Chairman Greg Abrahamson told commissioners.

The Airway Heights City Council gave its blessing to the agreement Monday night.

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