The Grand Traverse County board's decision to continue acting as a conduit for gambling revenue grants from the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians may cause more work for the county.
But the compromise is also recognition that the aim of county government is to work for taxpayers — and if working for taxpayers means being the financial link between the tribe and local governments getting those grants, so be it.
Some state officials have said tribal gambling proceeds must go to local governments and can't be parceled out to nonprofits. If that ruling had stood, many groups that had gotten grants in the past or were applying for grants now, would have been shut out.
Now, the board will require contracts with nonprofits, reports on grant compliance, and full discretion over how the money is spent — a right previously held by the tribal council.
Several county commissioners had expressed misgivings about the county's continued involvement, but in the end only one voted no. Board chairman Larry Inman was right when he said it was too late in the process to stop now — applications were due June 30. "At least for this round I think we need to do what we can to facilitate it."
The tribe, under a 1993 federal consent deal with the state, is required to send 2 percent of its electronic gambling revenue to local units of government, and it was argued that nonprofits aren't eligible. But over the past couple years thousands in grant money went through Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties to local nonprofit groups that use the money to assist recession-battered area residents.
Assistant Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Bob Cooney said the county could make grants to 11 recent applicants under a contract because they would provide services the county itself can legally provide. The county said other nonprofits must apply through a local government, which could legally act as fiscal agents because the nonprofit did some work the local government — a school district, for instance — could do.
The aim of the compromise deal is what it should be: Find a way within the law to help get tribal grants — made because the tribe is not obligated to pay local property taxes — to local governments or local nonprofits that need the money.
It shouldn't matter whether nonprofits or local governments are doing the work. What should count is that the work is getting done and the tribe is paying for it.