– By Gabriel Pietrorazio
For Seneca County, dealing with the Cayuga Nation has been simply burdensome, but in the neighboring Cayuga County, their collective future looks promising with a new pact, and a fresh start between the Nation and County.
On Thursday, June 25th, the Cayuga Nation has agreed to meet with key Cayuga County officials to continue fostering open dialogues with potential financial ramifications between the county and Cayuga Nation, according to the Village of Union Springs Mayor Bud Shattuck.
Prior to that date, this Friday, a virtual conversation will ensue via Zoom between Shattuck and Clint Halftown, both accompanied by their respective legal counsel in preparation for the June date.
Shattuck received confirmation from Lee Alcott, a partner at Barclay Damon who is a part of the legal representation for Halftown, in the form of a letter, verifying that the Cayuga Nation will participate in both meetings in the pursuit of expanding government-to-government relationships.
“We write on behalf of the Cayuga Nation to accept Cayuga County’s invitation to meet on June 25th. Cayuga Nation looks forward to a dialogue on a government-to-government basis and to potential future collaboration. As you know, however, we have a long-standing litigation with the Village of Union Springs in which the court is found in favor of the nation at every turn. Rather than accepting this outcome, the village has appealed the decision prolonging the matter which the nation fully expects to prevail. So, then it goes on and say this litigation has been an unfortunate impediment to us was working constructively with the good people of Cayuga County. Goes without saying working together rather than against each other would yield positive outcomes rather than simply spending taxpayer funds on hopeless litigation,” Shattuck reads a portion of the email.
Shattuck further explained that Christopher Palermo, the Cayuga County attorney, Aileen McNabb-Coleman, the new Cayuga County Legislature chair, Town of Springport Supervisor Dave Schenck, and Philip G. Spellane, the Article 10 lawyer from Harris Beach law firm will all be present for next month’s meeting.
But back in February prior to the pandemic, Shattuck reopened negotiations with Halftown, the Bureau of Indian Affairs federal representative for the Cayuga Nation and his legal counsel to envelop a stronger working relationship between both governments by imagining major proposed economic development projects: rebuilding the Lakeside Trading gas station, exploring the uses of a 100-acre field, and even the possibility of constructing a new hotel with a casino inside.
“So, we’ve reached out to Halftown’s group again. We’ve had conversations in the past. They gave us whole plans. They’re willing to work with the state DOT. They’re willing to work with our code office. They’re willing to work with water and sewer. They’ve even talked about the possibility of building a hotel over here maybe, embedding a casino inside of it. I’m okay with all those things, you know, as long as they understand, if they’re going to build something that large, and there’s got to be capacity in our wastewater plant, or upgrades or whatever,” Shattuck told FingerLakes1.com.
However, in order for the county and specifically the Village of Union Springs, the Lakeside Entertainment gambling license classification must be revised from the current Class II designation under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 to either Class I or Class III.
Class II gaming license encompasses bingo halls, including bingo facsimiles whereas Class I consists of traditional and ceremonial Indian games of chance like Peach Stone, which has been played among the Haudenosaunee for generations. Class III includes or Las Vegas style slot machines and other vending devices.
Changing the Class II status would allow for a financial agreement to be met between both parties, which would allow the Cayuga Nation to funnel revenue from the casino to the village and rest of Cayuga County.
“So, the premise would be, if they went to a Class A [III] casino right now, there are Class B [II], which means they can’t even make an agreement. So, a Class B [II], which is basically a bingo hall, that’s what they call themselves is they can’t have an agreement to pay a portion of anything. They would have to go to a Class A in order to have that agreement. If we sort of acquiesced and said, “Yeah, we’ll go ahead and build it and let’s do this. Let’s get a larger casino in there, and let’s have an agreement with at least internally with Union Spring and Cayuga County and see where it goes from there,” Shattuck said.
The prospects of a new casino emerging in Cayuga County can result in serious financial consequences for the neighboring Del Lago Resort & Casino, which sits just outside of the ten-town region, according to Shattuck.
Although the possibility of a new casino and hotel has not been confirmed, Alcott remains confident about what goals the Cayuga Nation and county can accomplish when working together.
“The Cayuga Nation has long supported respectful government-to-government relationships. Working with each other there are endless economic and mutually beneficial opportunities,” Alcott commented when pressed about the prospects of reclassifying Lakeside Entertainment as a Class I gaming facility.
“If we can figure out a way to get it so that our litigation stops based on what they do, then that may be a win-win.”
For years now, Shattuck has been welcoming Daniel French, partner at Barclay Damon who is another attorney that represents Halftown for casual conversations, even in his own boardroom, focusing on how both governments can mutually move forward together.
A crucial piece for that eventual settlement puzzle rests in the newly reasoned outcome of the Union Springs court case against the Cayuga Nation, which determined that the village cannot enforce the regulation of its own gambling restrictions onto the sovereign nation when it comes to Lakeside Entertainment, according to a ruling from U.S. District Court Judge David N. Hurd.
After this decision, the Village of Union Springs appealed the decision, which is now heading to the Second Circuit Court for Appeals in Manhattan.
“We’ve had sit down conversations right here in our boardroom with Halftown, and French and myself and my attorney, you know, casual conversations about how to move forward, and even willing to drop that lawsuit, provided there was a way to move forward but not just to drop it and then and then try to move forward… I don’t want to give up our suit prior to an earnest negotiated settlement,” Shattuck stated.
However, Shattuck concedes that if the Cayuga Nation were to act favorably, possibly with some form of a concession by entering a settlement, this decision can result in the village ceasing the appeal process.
“If we can figure out a way to get it so that our litigation stops based on what they do, then, that may be a win-win,” he said.
With eight properties owned within the Village of Union Springs alone and some other parcels scattered across Cayuga County inside the Town of Springport, Montezuma, and Aurelius, the Cayuga Nation holds onto an unquestionable foothold within the county, dating back hundreds of years ago.
But for Shattuck, he hopes that this newly sparked conversation could yield promising results on this front, especially since all parties involved have much at stake and that previous conversations have not spurred any further action afterward.
“While we’ve had those casual conversations and stated each what we want, it hasn’t gotten any farther at this point. So, we’ll see how this one goes, and so I know the county has a vested interest in it and the town has a vested interest in it. But the majority of problem the casino, and the gas station that doesn’t pay any taxes, and sells lots of cigarettes are in the Village of Union Springs. So, I think they are interest sort of trumps all of those others even though the next higher levels of government,” he continued.
“We’re always hoping. I’m not completely against the casino.”
Even now, Shattuck remains optimistic about the uncertain outcome from the revitalized line of communication with the Cayuga Nation, even after the recent court decision.
“We’re always hoping. I’m not completely against the casino. I moved here, they were already up and running. It’s been illegal to gamble in the village since 1958 without a permit. So that’s a legal justification. I’m not against that. I’m more concerned that I’m not getting any tax dollars out of all that gas and cigarettes that they’re selling, but if they have a revenue source, i.e. a casino, and they can utilize that revenue source to offset some of the other things that go on in the village, the town and the county, then I think that’s a reasonable step to take,” Shattuck shared.
Based on his recollection, last time he asked for the Cayuga Nation to assess the property values for all parcels owned in the village while also tracking all of the services that are used by the properties: strains on water and sewer waste management as well as costs for infrastructure on repairing roads.
At that time, Shattuck sought for both parties to “think of a way to marry that [cost for services] with a dollar amount that would benefit the village enough so that we don’t feel like we’re being taken advantage of, and you [Cayuga Nation] feel like you’re not paying taxes, which is what they refuse to do.”
Still, based on previous encounters at the negotiation table, Shattuck claims that each interaction is different and the bottom line for the village lies in balancing their budget and ensuring that taxes covered when services are utilized, even by the Cayuga Nation.
“I don’t know, I don’t have any answer. You know, every time we meet, it’s a little different. I need to have my budget taken care of, and so if I’m expending money within the village, the same way we tax people, it’s that they provide services. So, if you can’t tax an entity, then you have to have another way to be compensated for services you provide,” Shattuck concluded.
Last week, Seneca County officials denied building permits to the Cayuga Nation after publicly airing the fact that $6,061,131.23 are owed in taxes, penalties, and interests on properties throughout the county.
In contrast, Cayuga County is currently collaborating with the Cayuga Nation in the upcoming series of meetings, even though taxes are still left outstanding too.
Like Seneca County, the Cayuga Nation does not pay taxes on properties in the Village of Union Springs and rest of Cayuga County.
Among the eight properties in Union Springs alone, the tentative 2020 total assessment surpasses a staggering $3,124,000 and $4,504,119 for the combined full market value of the aforementioned parcels.
Below is the listing of all properties located in the Village of Union Springs:
South Cayuga Street – 141.17-1-37.1 – 8.47 acres
2020 Tentative Total Assessment: $389,000
2020 Tentative Full Market Value: $572,059
North Cayuga Street – 134.17-1-1.51 – 108 acres
2020 Tentative Total Assessment: $375,000
2020 Tentative Full Market Value: $551,471
North Cayuga Street – 141.06-1-6 – 12.4 acres
2020 Tentative Total Assessment: $11,200
2020 Tentative Full Market Value: $16,471
9 Cayuga Street – 141.17-1-38
2020 Tentative Total Assessment: $178,700
2020 Tentative Full Market Value: $262,794
256 Cayuga Street – 141.06-1-5 – 14.5 acres
2020 Tentative Total Assessment: $752,000
2020 Tentative Full Market Value: $1,105,882
271 Cayuga Street – 141.05-1-3 – 1.48 acres
Property: Lakeside Entertainment
2020 Tentative Total Assessment: $108,100
2020 Tentative Total Full Market Value: $158,971
299 Cayuga Street – 134.17-1-1.21 – .98 acres
Property: Lakeside Trading
2020 Tentative Total Assessment: $1,125,000
2020 Tentative Full Market Value: $1,654,412
303 Cayuga Street – 134.17-1-1.21 – 1 acre
Property: Lakeside Carwash
2020 Tentative Total Assessment: $185,000
2020 Tentative Full Market Value: $272,059
Estimated Total Acreage: 146.83
2020 Tentative Total Assessment: $3,124,000
2020 Tentative Full Market Value: $4,504,119