Tomorrow, St. Mary Parish voters decide if they want a riverboat casino in Amelia.
St. Mary Parish Councilman Peter Soprano has had his say at this week’s parish council meeting and in a "Letter to the Editor" here. We firmly disagree on our recollections of any conversations in the past. No way to resolve it, so I’ll let it lie as it is.
A quick survey this week by yours truly has indicated that Franklin Mayor Raymond Harris, while mentioning that his new city council only took office July 1 and has not had a chance to consider the riverboat proposal officially, the mayor himself is opposed. Harris was careful to note he is opposed to gaming in general.
Baldwin Mayor Wayne Breaux also said that there’s been no official action on the part of his council. He said he is personally concerned whether or not the local market can sustain two operations of such a caliber. The mayor said he is not sure that the adage "if one is good two is better" applies in the case.
Sheriff David Naquin takes the position that "any business that came to Amelia of that magnitude is going to require obvious increases in what we’re going to have to provide" in terms of law enforcement. The sheriff said that he "obviously can’t provide that on the monies I receive now. We have met with the parish and Amelia Belle people trying to work out those numbers so we can take care of what we anticipate in traffic flow, and everything else. The concern I have is the workforce shortage that everyone else in the parish is experiencing."
Parish President Paul Naquin, on the other hand, told KLFY Channel 10 news this week that the riverboat was the best deal the parish has seen in a long time.
It has long been known to us in the tribe that there was some resentment on the eastern end of the parish regarding our gaming operations. In fact, we have suspected for some time that there has been active recruitment on the part of some parish reps – officially or unofficially, it doesn’t really matter – to introduce competing gaming operations to our own. I should think that if a parish council member or president or staff member publicly or privately aggressively recruited a competitive business against another existing business in this parish, say a restaurant or a car dealership, there’d be hell to pay. Don’t you think said restaurant owner or dealership owner would be rather ticked off about parish government meddling in their livelihood?
I personally sat in Sacred Heart Church Hall during a meeting of the informal group the St. Mary Parish Council of Governments a year or two ago and heard the former parish president Mr. Cefalu urge the entire room of attendees not to go spend their money at the casino when they left Baldwin that night. The entire room heard him say it, and when I jumped him about it, he retracted and apologized to the group, albeit grudgingly.
When parish officials make such comments to the gathered representatives of the governing bodies of St. Mary Parish should we continue to feel trusting of their claims? Why do they feel it’s funny to say something like that about the casino but realize it would be in terribly bad taste to say something like, "Don’t go stay at (name a hotel in St. Mary Parish) tonight!"
It’s also a mysterious thing that this famed Tigre Isle development at Lake Palourde in Morgan City has all the makings of a great place to put a casino boat. In fact, early conceptual drawings indicated a prime little docking spot for such a boat, though it was not actually so named.
Chitimacha Tribal Government functions like any other public government. We have responsibilities to our membership such as public works, streets, drainage, services. We finance those services through revenues from our casino. We run a recreation department, a cultural department, a school, a scholarship program for our college students, an elderly program and much, much more.
Contrary to popular belief, we get very, very little federal funding, and what state and federal funding we do get is usually grants that any other municipality can apply for and receive. We run a $8 million governmental budget.
We do not get a share of parish taxes such as the cities do and the parish council does. We do not get a share of sales taxes or property taxes when you pay them. Be clear on that. We fund government services with casino revenues virtually exclusively.
So would it be proper for the parish council to in any way obstruct revenue sources received by Franklin, Baldwin Morgan City, etc? The mayors and councilmembers of those cities would jump up and down and scream bloody murder, wouldn’t they?
But by encouraging the riverboat casino in Amelia, that’s what they are doing to my government, despite the goodwill and friendly attitude we’ve tried to foster for more than a decade.
Now, here’s some thoughts going through your mind right now, please listen carefully to the answer:
1) Well, you people don’t pay taxes so you shouldn’t get any share of tax collections.
Listen to me closely, this is a tired old myth that needs to die: I pay income tax and I pay sales tax. I only do not pay sales tax on the reservation, which amounts to little more than a gallon of milk here and there and an occasional fill-up in my truck at the Trading Post. I pay sales tax at Wal-Mart and at the convenience store and at the restaurants here in town or anywhere else. My employer takes income tax out of my check.
We do not pay property taxes on the reservation, that’s true, and that’s where that larger myth comes from. The land our homes sit on are tribal lands, held in trust, and do not belong to us as individuals, so it’s only natural we would not pay taxes on land we do not own. If I buy a home off the reservation and it’s not homestead exempt under parish law, I gotta pay taxes on it no matter if I’m Indian or not. If you rent a house, you don’t pay property taxes on it, do you?
2) You people get these huge checks from the casino every year, and that’s what you’re worried about.
If you consider the $750 I got this year huge, then yes, we’re making a killing. I ought to just retire and live off my casino check, don’t you think?
3) You just want your casino to be exclusive in the parish.
There’s more video poker machines and the like in the bars, restaurants and truckstop casinos in St. Mary Parish than you can shake a stick at. No, what we’re angry about is having been a good, sharing neighbor in St. Mary Parish and having the shaft put to us.
We also contribute $1.5 million a year to the local governments in the form of voluntary revenue sharing from our gaming operations. The new riverboat has promised to share revenues as well, and surprise! They promised…$1.5 million. Coincidence? I think not. Is any of that money going to the municipalities, like ours does? Will it just stay in parish coffers?
We pay more than $25 million a year in salaries at the casino, and about 70 percent of those are parish residents. We’ve done all we can do to be good neighbors in this parish.
The parish has complained that we were invited into the St. Mary Parish Council of Governments and the mayors committee, both informal groups, but we do not attend their meetings.
Well, you know, I cover Council of Governments meetings for the newspaper when they’re held on this end of the parish and they’re nice and all, but the biggest draw, besides a good meal, is the quarterly sales tax report, which we receive none of. Sure, it’s a good chance for the parish’s public officials from all agencies to get together, mingle, talk, share ideas.
We do contribute to those sales taxes through the salaries we pay out to people who are going to buy things with it, and purchases we make as a business and a government.
Things that make you go, "Hmmm…"
Should we attend? It would probably be good so we don’t get blind-sided again. But I hope we’ll get a better reception than we did at an advisory St. Mary Industrial Park board meeting a year or so ago where one board member did his absolute best to insult and infuriate our tribal representative on the panel. The culprit was, by the way, a parish official.
Oh, and about that road from La. 182 through Raintree Village. Some devious or at least ill-informed folks are saying, "Well, y’all insisted the parish use that money to build a road to y’all casino."
That road was built and is being paid for through an intergovernmental agreement between the tribe, parish and municipalities. Governments enter into such agreements all the time around here, ours is no different, except that we’ve sparked a little controversy on a completely unrelated matter and some folks are just grasping at straws to cover themselves with.
They make no mention of the $450,000 in sewer bonds we paid off years ahead of time that allowed Charenton area residents to receive sewer service far earlier than they otherwise would have.
And by the way, how many of them have dined at our steakhouse on complimentary courtesy?
I cannot speak for my people or for tribal government, but I can say for myself this much: It’s a low, low point in our relationship with St. Mary Parish Government. One not soon to be forgotten. I, personally, as a tribal member will be encouraging my governmental leaders to reconsider our options regarding that $1.5 million a year we are voluntarily sharing right now.
Columbia Sussex has run misleading advertising in billboards all over the parish that say you should vote for jobs and opportunity but make no mention in many cases that those jobs and opportunity are gaming-related.
However you vote tomorrow I just wanted you to know the way all this played out, and remember it when you go to the polls.
We’ll remember it long after tomorrow, you can be certain.