SANTA YSABEL: Tribe wants to reach new agreement with county, chairman says
By EDWARD SIFUENTES [email protected] North County Times May 11, 2012
A North County tribe that owes $3 million in public safety payments to the county said Wednesday it wanted to repay the money but has been unable to reach an agreement with county officials.
Earlier this month, the county started the process of freezing the tribe's bank accounts in an attempt to collect the money.
As a condition of opening a casino, the Santa Ysabel Band of Mission Indians struck an agreement with San Diego County in 2005 to pay about $600,000 a year for additional law enforcement, emergency and fire services in the area.
The tribe said the county was attempting to illegally seize money from its bank accounts that was not related to their gaming operation.
When the tribe failed to make its payments, the county asked for mediation in 2010 and was awarded $3 million. A 2011 judgment reaffirmed the award and allowed the county to begin the process of freezing the casino's bank accounts.
Santa Ysabel Chairman Virgil Perez said Wednesday that the tribe wanted to pay a "fair settlement," but the county was being unreasonable.
"While we are absolutely open to payment arrangements, we are absolutely committed to defending our employees' livelihoods and standing up for our community," Perez said in a written statement. "At this point, the county is interested in neither of those points."
County officials did not return a request for comment by Thursday afternoon.
Perez said the tribe's agreement with the county allows the attachment of funds from its casino but prohibits the county from seizing non-gaming money.
The chairman said in a statement that he was recently notified that the county was attempting to seize all the money in 20 different bank accounts belonging to the tribe, including federal grants for housing, road improvements, government operations and veterans services.
"We are a federally recognized tribal government and the programs and services we provide to our people are vital to their health and welfare," Perez said. "Without these funds, we can't meet our basic responsibilities to our own citizens."
Perez also said the tribe wanted to reach a new agreement to lower the public safety payments. He said that due to the economy and the "unrealistic projections from the original planned casino size, these fees were unreasonable."
"The tribe has been very forthcoming and we are hopeful that the county will be reasonable," Perez said. "We look forward to a swift and equitable solution to this issue so we can continue to provide for the community we enjoy."