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Communities to Get Help From Tribes for Services, Equipment

Times Staff Writer

Overwhelmed by booming city growth and traffic congestion at a neighboring casino, Banning Police Chief Michael Brooks spent Monday afternoon with the Morongo Band of Mission Indians seeking support and funding to build a new police station.

Morongo tribal leaders listened closely, according to Brooks, then promised to consider supporting his request for $7 million from a special distribution fund created by the state’s most successful gambling tribes to address the negative impacts of their casinos on local communities.

Trouble is, there exists no mechanism by which to parcel out portions of the fund to areas in need of such things as additional fire-fighting equipment, patrol cars and traffic controls.

All that is about to change. Five years after 28 tribes with state gambling deals agreed to contribute to the fund, which has grown to $25 million, local committees now are being formed to process grant applications and then direct financial help where it is needed most.

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Brooks hopes to be among the first in line for his fair share.

“Our police station is too small, and it has a bad roof,” he said.

“We need six patrol cars, three unmarked vehicles, two motorcycles, 15 hand-held police radios, 10 shotguns and 10 handguns. We also need a new fire engine and other fire-suppression equipment.”

If all goes according to plan, Brooks said, Banning could receive an initial allocation of $2.1 million later this year.

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With nine casinos operating within its boundaries, Riverside County expects to receive $10.6 million from the fund -- nearly half of the total amount in reserve -- for use to improve roads and emergency response services.

“This is good news for local communities and cities that are cash strapped and having to cut back on services,” said tribal consultant Rod Wilson. “Once the application process gets started, it will provide money that municipalities and counties can count on -- and budget.”

That would include Banning, where voters this month turned down a property tax increase that would have allowed Brooks to hire more police officers.

To hear tribal leaders tell it, no one wants to get the funds returned to communities the casinos affect more than they do.

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“It was a long process but we finally made it,” said Lynn Valbuena, chairperson for the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations, a coalition of casino tribes in Riverside, San Bernardino and Santa Barbara counties. “We want a good working relationship with our neighbors.”

Still, Brooks will have to wait a little longer for a definitive answer from the Morongo tribe.

“I’m confident that we’ll get the tribal sponsorship we need to get funding,” Brooks said. “But right now, all the tribal chairman could say is that my request will be processed along with all the other applications he’s received.”


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