Jessie Malecki has a Letter to the Editor in today’s Schenectady Gazette that deserves wide distribution and much consideration at City Hall. (June 12, 2015, C6):
what was the rush for casino approvals?
I hope everyone in the city of Schenectady had the opportunity to read Mohamed Hafez’s June 5 guest column, “Schenectady in need of host deal for casino.” That surely is an eye opener showing us what our city administration has neglected to do in dealing with Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group.
It is one thing that a casino will be coming to our city, but it is another that this administration did not even give the slightest thought that we should have a Host Community Agreement (HCA). This was completely left out of any dealings with Rush Street Gaming or the Galesi Group. [see our posting “Mayor McCarthy left millions on the casino table.“]
In other words, the administration of our fair city not only gave whatever was necessary for these two groups, but just about gave them the keys to our fair city — do what you want. No business is run like that — if it was, it wouldn’t last two days.
Even back in January, The Gazette had a great editorial (Jan. 29), “Public needs to see impact of zoning,” which is an important issue and should not have been taken lightly. Here again, most of the City Council members (except Vince Riggi), including the president, always had the inevitable “excuse” that there is a time deadline and a vote must be made as soon as possible.
There was and is always time to make sure things are done correctly and this was definitely one of them. This project will be here for a long time. By hurriedly voting on this important issue, they gave unlimited heights to buildings, signs, etc. to Rush Gaming and the Galesi Group.
What was all the hurry because we have a deadline all about? Rush Street Gaming has yet to receive a casino license from the state Gaming Commission, but it is said it will by the end of the year. Ms. King, among many other items needing immediate attention, what was the so-called deadline that you refered to back in January when you had to vote for the Alco site zoning change, which was something that should really have been thought about long and seriously?
The public needed to see the impact of the zoning change, which it did not because the “excuse” of a deadline in everything that was done.
Jessie lives in the Stockade, in the North Street home she was born in during WWI. We are very lucky to have her among the founders of Stop the Schenectady Casino. She has been prolific telling the truth about the coming casino.
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Bonus: Here’s the Guest Column by Mohamed Hafez mentioned above by Jessie:
Schenectady needs host deal for casino
For The Gazette Opinion section
by Mohamed A. Hafez
While many rejoiced over the selection of Schenectady as a site for a casino, after the dust settled, residents realized that a Host Community Agreement (HCA) is an area that was left out of the planning for the casino project.
An HCA is an agreement signed by the casino developer typically to provide the host community with funds to mitigate the additional burdens placed on the municipality as a result of the project, address the direct and indirect impacts, commit to a mitigation plan, and pay a community impact fee.
The town of Tyre, Seneca County, with a population less than 1,000, engaged the Center for Governmental Research (CGR), a not-for-profit group, to assess the impact of the proposed Wilmorite “Lago”Casino and Resort on the Tyre community. The CGR studied the agreements negotiated between casino developers with other municipalities in Massachusetts and New York, and reviewed the HCA to be signed by the town’s casino developer Wilmorite, Inc.
Acting to protect the town’s residents, secure a binding contractual obligation from Wilmorite and relying on the CGR report, in June 2014 the town supervisor introduced the HCA to the town’s board for a vote.
To guarantee that Wilmorite will in fact pay its obligations in the agreement, Wilmorite’s annual obligation to the town will be secured by a $4 million first-priority lien on the project.
In addition, Wilmorite agreed to pay for all financial, legal and engineering expenses associated with the project.
It also agreed, among other things, to pay for the mitigation of direct community impacts, such as installation and maintenance of new water and sewer lines for the casino; design telecommunication infrastructure; pay the cost of new firefighting equipment and training; pay for a new sheriff’s deputy; pay unreimbursed ambulance fees; give hiring preference to qualified Seneca County residents; solicit bids from local vendors; provide voucher reward programs to county businesses; limit its lodging facilities to no more than 220 rooms for 10 years; and pay the town $600,000 to fund the purchase of development rights related to the preservation of agricultural land in the town.
Concerned that funds collected by the state for problem gambling may not trickle down to the county and town, the Seneca County mental health department signed a separate memorandum requiring Wilmorite to take all described actions to mitigate gambling addiction and other social impacts on the community.
Wilmorite also agreed to pay for the mitigation of indirect community impacts, addressing the need for additional town infrastructure, facilities, equipment and employees, and for issues related to public health, safety, welfare, addictive behavior and quality-of-life as follows:
Commencing on Jan. 15, 2015, Wilmorite agreed to pay the town an indirect impact fee of $750,000 in 2015, $2 million in 2016 and $2 million in 2017. For 2018 and thereafter, the fee is $2 million, plus annual increases adjusted by formula.
To eliminate that cost to taxpayers, Wilmorite will pay for the town’s contract with the fire department; $104,000 in 2015 and $200,000 per year thereafter.
Other communities in Massachusetts and New York clearly recognize there can be adverse casino effects. These can be mitigated, addressed, and maybe even reversed through such a mechanism as an HCA. Why not in Schenectady?
I call upon the Schenectady mayor to secure a binding agreement with the casino developer, and to take all necessary actions to protect our neighborhoods and city residents from the casino’s adverse impacts in such a way similar to what the Tyre town supervisor has done to protect the town and its residents.
Mohamed A. Hafez is a resident of Schenectady.