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SALAMANCA PURSUES LEASE TALKS WITH SENECAS NEGOTIATORS ARE RACING CLOCK TO IRON OUT DETAILS ON RENEWAL CLAUSES

Discussions between land lease negotiators from the Seneca Nation of Indians and City of Salamanca are expected to continue Monday as the parties try to resolve a key issue.

They are racing the clock to agree on drafted legislation that will be filed before state and federal governments.

The issue involves the city's loss over 99 years for properties taken over by Senecas who do not have to pay property taxes. "They cost us money for services and will continue to . . . plus inflation . . . if more parcels are purchased" by Indians, said David Franz, attorney for the city and its Lease Authority.

Complicated formulas are being used, said Franz, to estimate city losses, from the past and in the future. The Senecas want to study those figures before a final agreement is made, he said.

The negotiators are concluding talks that have spanned 20 years and been active only the last two years to resolve renewal clauses for 3,300 land leases on the Allegany Reservation in the city. Leases expire Feb. 19 and so far the agreement calls for 40-year renewals with 40-year options. Some minor details also still need agreement, said Franz.

Seneca Nation officials could not be reached to comment on the ongoing discussions.

Franz said Seneca negotiators have agreed to support the city's efforts to gain some relief from state and federal governments. He did not want to discuss the details of how the city might be reimbursed.

The City Council will meet early in July, said Franz, to act on the legislation and to approve related documents that require a formal vote. "There's no point in filing legislation if the city doesn't want it to happen," he said.

All proposals will be studied by committees of the U.S. Senate and House and may be aired at public hearings, said Franz.

The negotiators have agreed that the city will make annual lease payments of $800,000 to the tribe which will also receive a $60 million onetime settlement from the state and federal governments.

Franz said Gov. Cuomo must also sign an agreement committing the state. Until recently state officials have not publicly committed to the lease agreement.

Responding to a letter from Rosalyn Hoag, president of the Salamanca Area Chamber of Commerce, Lt. Gov. Stan Lundine said he's "deeply committed to helping arrange the best possible agreement between the Seneca Nation of Indians and Salamanca.

"We in the Cuomo administration are work ing very hard and cooperating with federal representatives to secure the fairest solution for the Senecas and Salamanca.

"Understanding the Senecas have suffered from previous inequitable lease payments for nearly a century, I'm sure you understand our interest in providing some sort of restitution. The proposed federal and state payments, as well as the new lease agreement, represent an effort both to make up for past wrongs and to provide a framework for the future."

Lundine said the interests of the city residents will also be considered. "We are exploring a variety of ways to enhance the economic climate of Salamanca," he said. "We are looking into possible sites for a prison facility in the area which would provide substantial state employment. We have also asked the Western New York Economic Development Corp. to explore all possible economic development initiatives."

Lundine said the city must decide what is best for itself and Senecas. He noted time is short as Rep. Amory Houghton Jr., R-Corning, prepares to file the federal legislation.

"We are working with him," said Lundine, "and expect to support this federal legislation. We will also take appropriate state action based upon this legislation as well as the requests of community leaders."

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