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Saratoga Springs to lobby for gaming revenue

Saratoga Springs to lobby for gaming revenue

City officials plan to lobby state leaders in Albany today and Tuesday with the hope that the cit

City officials plan to lobby state leaders in Albany today and Tuesday with the hope that the city won’t lose its revenue from hosting video slot machines.

City Council members also plan to meet with officials from other communities in the state that could lose a portion of their VLT revenue if a proposal from Gov. David Paterson passes in the state Legislature.

VLT monies make up about 10 percent of the city’s operating revenue, or $3.8 million. Paterson has proposed cutting in half the VLT aid for the 2009-10 budget year for all municipalities that receive it except Yonkers, to help close a state budget deficit.

That means the city would lose $1.9 million, or 5 percent of its operating budget.

The change also would affect Saratoga County, which receives a smaller portion of VLT revenue than the city does.

Mayor Scott Johnson said he wants to open the communication lines with state leaders.

“Basically, it’s to get out there early as possible and start discussing what we perceive to be a wrongdoing.”

Johnson opposes to Yonkers being exempt from the proposed funding cuts. And he said the state already makes a lot of money from VLTs, while local municipalities carry the burden of hosting the facilities.

While the city gets about $3.8 million a year from VLT spending at Saratoga Gaming and Raceway, the state takes in nearly $20 million.

“I don’t think there would be support in our community for hosting VLT gaming if we were not justly compensated.”

Commissioner of Accounts John Franck is not confident that state leaders will listen to those arguments. He noted the city used to have more clout in the state Senate when former Majority Leader Joseph Bruno was the city’s representative.

“I don’t see a majority leader that’s living down in the city saying, ‘We’re going to take it away from the city and give it to you.’ ”

Although city officials are united in their lobbying efforts, they’re at odds over how to proceed with the city’s budget in light of the governor’s proposal.

Franck warned the council last week that with the state’s budget crisis, city officials should consider not relying on VLT revenue to balance the budget.

The next day, the governor presented his proposed budget cuts, which included the VLT changes.

Franck said the city should remove the $1.9 million in projected revenue from the proposed 2009 budget before voting on it by the end of this month, and he can’t support the budget it if includes those funds.

“It’s one thing for me to say, ‘Chop it down because I think it’s going to happen.’ It’s another thing when the governor puts it in his press release,” Franck said.

Johnson said he leans toward cutting city expenses in case the VLT revenue is sliced in half.

But Finance Commissioner Ken Ivins doesn’t plan to remove that revenue from the budget, at least not yet.

“My position as of right now is that we are trying to fight it to keep this money in. We have through the end of November, so we have another two weeks before we have to vote on a budget.”

Ivins said he may change his position when he gets more information.

The city also could elect to amend the budget next month.

But Franck pointed out that officials won’t know what will happen with the VLT money before next spring.

“We won’t know until the budget’s signed,” Franck said. “It could be May, June, July. I’d rather plan for it now, just in case.”

Franck believes if half the money is removed next year, the year after that the state will take the rest away.

Ivins originally submitted to the City Council a 2009 budget that sliced several jobs, but most of those have since been added back into the $38.5 million spending plan, thanks to a recently-awarded state grant, insurance savings and a projected 10 percent decrease in natural gas spending.

As the proposed budget stands currently, a code enforcement officer, heritage specialist in the Visitor Center, executive assistants in the Public Works and Public Safety departments and a senior clerk in the Department of Public Works will have jobs next year. They were originally slated to be cut.

Two new police officers may be hired as well.

A date has not yet been set for the council to vote on the budget.

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