Saratoga County

Panel gets say in track

Fifteen people will make up the local advisory board that will review any proposed changes to Sarato

Fifteen people will make up the local advisory board that will review any proposed changes to Saratoga Race Course under the racing deal struck Wednesday in Albany.

The city’s mayor will appoint five of the members, five will be named by the county Board of Supervisors, and the New York Racing Association will place another five.

“Anything that goes on around there, that committee will be related to moving it forward,” state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick, said at a briefing Thursday.

That board is expected to be appointed within 30 days, according to the legislation.

Bruno held the briefing at the National Museum of Racing on Union Avenue, and local officials filled the room, applauding loudly when he announced that the state would pay all local property taxes, which total almost $2 million for the city of Saratoga Springs and exceed that for the school district.

That’s better than making payments in lieu of taxes because then the money is guaranteed, officials said.

Mayor Scott Johnson said he looks forward to appointing his five members to the advisory board.

“We clamored for that for years and years, and now we have it,” Johnson said.

State legislators on Wednesday approved a 25-year thoroughbred horse racing franchise for NYRA, giving the bankrupt association a $105 million boost and taking ownership of the track properties, including Saratoga Race Course, Belmont Park and Aqueduct. The agreement calls for review of NYRA’s operations every four years by a new Franchise Oversight Board.

A changed model for NYRA will ensure that the association will stay solvent in the years ahead, Bruno said.

“The NYRA model never worked. We’re fixing the model. That’s really the bottom line.”

The $105 million includes $75 million to settle bankruptcy debts and the rest for operating cash until video lottery terminals start making money at Aqueduct, Bruno said.

On the subject of VLT money, Bruno assured local officials at Thursday’s briefing that the Senate wouldn’t agree to change the law and take away the city’s VLT revenue from Saratoga Gaming and Raceway. As host communities, the city and Saratoga County each get a share of the revenue from that facility, and Gov. Eliot Spitzer has proposed taking that money for the state’s general revenue in his budget proposal.

To do so, the state Senate and the Assembly would have to agree to change the law.

The bill passed Wednesday also charges the local advisory board and the state Historic Preservation Office with drafting an inventory of buildings and landscape features at the racetrack and their condition, something that the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation asked for last year.

The board may forward the historic buildings and features to be considered in the national and state Registers of Historic Places and to be put in local historical districts, the legislation states.

It’s more local oversight than the track gets now, as it isn’t subject to any of the city’s advisory boards’ review.

“The second-best thing is for us to have input,” Johnson said.

The agreement also calls for the NYRA board of directors to be reduced, with more government appointees and members of the racing community. Currently, NYRA is governed by a 28-member board of trustees. Under the agreement, the board will be trimmed to 25 members, and NYRA will appoint 14 instead of 18 members. Three will be appointed by the governor, two by each house of the legislature, with one horseman, one breeder, one laborer and one representative of off-track betting rounding out the mix.

Categories: Schenectady County

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