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City of Airway Heights to reduce public safety services to Kalispel Tribe over fee dispute

The Airway Heights City Council voted this week to reduce fire and police services to Kalispel Tribe properties, alleging the tribe has not made payments for public safety services. The tribe has accused the city of spreading misinformation.

Airway Heights leaders said the Kalispel Tribe has not made payments on public safety contracts since 2019, and now owes the city about $1.5 million.

In a statement Tuesday, the tribe accused the city of spreading misinformation. They say the city has not been providing services the tribe has paid for, and the two parties have been trying to work through the dispute. They argue the city council vote is an attempt to extort money from the tribe through public threats.

“The Kalispel Tribe has paid nearly $13 million in impact payments to the City of Airway Heights since 2000,” wrote Kalispel spokesperson Julie Holland. “The Tribe continues to make an annual impact payment under its Gaming Compant, amounting to approximately $1.1 million to local non-profit organizations in Spokane and Pend Oreille Counties in the last 22 years.”

Airway Heights City Manager Albert Tripp said the city has experienced historic growth in the last several years and does not have the resources to serve city residents and the tribe without the payments.

“We've seen a sharp increase in population and with that increase in population, we're also seeing a sharp increase in public services to include police, fire and emergency services," he said. "In this particularly context when you continue to provide services and you don't have the resources to offset the provision of it, it takes the already limited services we have available and spreads them even thinner.”

Tripp said the tribe had been paying fees the state requires to offset the effects of operating a casino, its gaming compact, but has not been making payments on two longstanding agreements it has with the city, signed in 2006 and 1996, for three years.

The Kalispel Tribe does have its own police department, and agreements with area agencies, but does not have its own fire department, according to the tribe’s release. They said they are working with the city of Spokane and Spokane County to ensure there is continued fire and medical protection on tribal property.

Both the Kalispel Tribe and Tripp said they are working toward a solution to the dispute.