Tribe, city dispute contract for casino services

Nort Bend, Oregon (AP) 7-09

A dispute over a contract for government services has the potential for a court test involving an Oregon city and a sovereign tribe.

The Coquille Tribe operates The Mill Casino in North Bend and pays for city services through lodging revenue, matching the rates paid by other motel and hotels in an occupancy tax.

But the tribe, after a $40 million expansion, has laid off 7 percent of the casino’s work force, and it is pressing the city for better contract terms. It has withheld $88,000 in payments this year. Last year, it paid $440,000.

The city won’t say whether it would take the tribe to court, which could raise the prospect of debate over the tribe’s sovereign status.

The contract between the city and the tribe says that the rate for the occupancy payment should be equal to that charged to other motels and hotels in the city. A similar provision covers payments instead of property taxes.

There is a waiver of sovereign immunity in the tribe’s contract with North Bend, but the language has never been tested in court.

North Bend Mayor Rick Wetherell said the city’s budget and regional tourism efforts are affected by the shortage.

“We are extremely disappointed,” Wetherell said. “In the past, we’ve had a cooperative working relationship with the Coquille Indian Tribe.”

Tribal attorney Brett Kenney said he would let the waiver “speak for itself,” adding that the tribe is committed to ensuring that the casino and its hotel continue to receive the city services it has in the past. He said he expects to meet with city leaders in the next few weeks to work out a new agreement.