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— The northwest Arkansas town of Siloam Springs has long been providing city services to neighboring West Siloam Springs in Oklahoma.

Now the city is betting a $108 million expansion of a Cherokee Casino and hotel in the neighboring Oklahoma town will bring in revenues on top of the fees already charged for Siloam Springs water, sewer, and fire protection.

The casino is one of seven in Oklahoma operated by Cherokee Nation Enterprises. It opened its doors last week.

"There's no question Siloam Springs is in the immediate impact area," said Wayne Mays, president of the Siloam Springs Chamber of Commerce, of which Cherokee Casino is a member. "This will have a huge impact on us. The casino is a magnet. Whenever something like this locates in or near your community, other businesses and opportunities tend to pop up around it."

Elaine Carr, mayor of West Siloam Springs, said the new 200,000-square-foot Cherokee Casino has the potential to turn her town into a Branson, Mo., a popular entertainment strip. She said at least two hotels and a mini-mall have expressed interest in building near the casino.

"I'm excited about the increased traffic that will be coming through our community, stopping at our businesses - restaurants, gas stations, stores," Mays said. "The Chamber and Siloam Springs will not be promoting gambling itself, but it is a legal business where it is. There are positives, like the 1,000 jobs it's expected to create."

With the casino expansion, Siloam Springs renegotiated its contract to provide water, sewer and fire service to West Siloam Springs. The new deal increased the fees coming into Siloam Springs.

"The casino, it took off and increased the demand on our infrastructure," Siloam Springs City Administrator David Cameron said. "We couldn't justify having to raise our own residents' rates for something that was going to another community."

Under the new deal, Siloam Springs receives $75,000 annually to be the secondary responder to fires in West Siloam Springs, and Siloam Springs will continue to provide water to its western neighbor at a significantly increased rate.

"The rate covers all West Siloam Springs' future growth and helps pay for our capital infrastructure, too," Cameron said. "We've been providing these services, but we can't collect property tax, sales tax and other taxes like we do from our own residents. So our water rates to West Siloam Springs have been adjusted to make up for that."

A deal is pending in which Siloam Springs would continue emergency medical services to West Siloam Springs for an increased annual rate. Last year, Siloam Springs EMS services responded to more than 200 calls in West Siloam Springs.

For more information see Sunday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


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