Casino's shift to trust could hit county - Clearwater's request could mean a loss of revenue for Kitsap.

Steven Gardner
Bremerton Sun Staff

September 1, 2003

As the new Clearwater Casino stands ready to take in boatloads of customers, Kitsap County could soon lose its ability to cash in.

The casino's owners have filed a request with the Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs to turn the ground underneath it into federal trust land.

Much of the impact from the shift would depend on the timing.

If it happens before Dec. 1, the county would lose out on new construction revenue it is allowed to collect one year after new construction occurs. The loss in revenue wouldn't be huge.

If the switch happens later, however, the county will have included the property in its assessment for the area and based its budget on it.

For individual taxpayers, the worst-case scenario would be a $17 one-year increase in property taxes to make up for revenue the casino wouldn't be paying, according to a spreadsheet created by Jim Avery, county assessor.

For the tribe, putting the casino in trust would help it avoid a huge tax increase.

Port Madison Enterprises, the Suquamish Tribe's business entity, owns the 13.47-acre casino site. The county collects property taxes, and has since the casino opened.

In 2002, Port Madison paid just more than $15,000, based on an assessed value of $1.1 million. The money was distributed among state and local schools, the regional library system, the county's general fund, the county road fund, North Kitsap Fire & Rescye and Public Utility District No. 1.

With the new casino earlier estimated to be worth $30 million, Port Madison's tax bill would go up to almost $400,000, nearly a 2,600 percent increase.

If the casino owners are no longer required to pay, the burden would either shift to other taxpayers in the same North Kitsap taxing district, or the county would simply lose out on what it used to get from the casino and any future revenues.

"There is going to be an impact either way," said Chris Endresen, county commissioner. Endresen said Friday she would draft a letter over the Labor Day weekend as a proposed response to the Bureau of Indian Affairs from the county board of commissioners.

Michelle Hansen, the tribe's attorney, was on vacation Friday and unavailable to comment. Other tribal sources did not return phone calls.

The tribe's attempts to get the land placed in trust is not a brand new effort. The Bureau of Indian Affairs letter indicates the tribe first made a request in 1991. At the time, however, there were liens on the property, prohibiting the transfer.

The board of commissioners will meet Wednesday to decide whether it will only outline what the county stands to lose if the land is placed in trust, express outright opposition to the change or some other option.

In the meantime, most expect the new facility will increase traffic on Highway 305. Port Madison is in discussions with Kitsap Transit about dedicating some of the property to a park-and-ride lot, which would allow the transit agency to shift its current lots across the street, easing some of the current problems.

Endresen said she hopes the county and tribe can find a way to make the casino's impact work even if the land underneath is placed in trust.

"If we can mitigate the revenue and the impacts of that revenue, to me whether it's in trust or not doesn't matter because the site's already built," she said.


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