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What you need to know for 01/18/2017

Schenectady Council facing casino time crunch

casinos

Schenectady Council facing casino time crunch

A shaky consensus on the proposed Schenectady casino is being forged by the City Council, with the s

A previous version of this story incorrectly estimated the revenue the city could receive from the casino. It is estimated at $6 million a year.

SCHENECTADY — A shaky consensus on the proposed Schenectady casino is being forged by the City Council, with the swing vote holding out for major concessions.

Councilman Carl Erikson wants a promise that casino revenue, estimated at $6 million, would be used to reduce taxes.

And if that isn’t enough, he also wants to amend the city-county agreement on sales tax. He wants the city to get more sales tax on the grounds that the casino will significantly increase sales tax revenue.

Council members have been discussing the matter with constituents and one another for weeks, but they have not yet set a public meeting. And now time is getting away from them.

If the Schenectady casino proposal is to go forward, the council must provide a resolution of support by the end of June. There are only two meetings left between now and then — but the council needs three meetings if it is going to hold a public hearing prior to the vote.

The council must call for a public hearing at one meeting, hold it at the next, then vote at the subsequent meeting. By law, the council could vote moments after the hearing, but the council has long stuck with a policy that it will never vote on the same night if an issue is controversial.

The time crunch took council members by surprise.

“We’d better get going!” Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo said.

Council President Margaret King said she had only just begun to look into the deadlines and other requirements, thinking there was plenty of time. A presentation on the casino is scheduled for next Monday, she said.

Now the council has just two options: Hold a special meeting in late June to vote on the casino resolution, or skip the public hearing.

Either option leaves it vulnerable to criticism. Residents are already accusing the council of moving too quickly or without enough transparency on the issue.

At Wednesday’s meeting, resident Mohammed Hafez took the council to task for considering the issue “in such a hurry” — apparently not realizing that the council has not even begun to discuss it.

Corporation Counsel John Polster said the council could easily skip the public hearing before making a decision.

“The bottom line is there is no requirement for a public hearing,” he said.

He noted that many residents have already offered their opinions and that more could do so during privilege of the floor at the next two meetings.

If the council decides to hold a public hearing and then vote at a special meeting, he said, it could easily do that. It would only have to give three days’ notice.

While the council works through the logistics, members are also trying to ensure that the resolution of support actually passes.

So far, only three people have indicated they would likely vote in favor: council members King, Perazzo and Ed Kosiur.

Councilman Vince Riggi is adamantly opposed. Members Marion Porterfield and John Mootooveren are leaning against, but said they have not yet made up their minds.

Both said they are very concerned by the possible negative impacts of an urban casino.

That leaves Erikson as the swing vote.

While he said publicly last year that he was personally opposed to casinos, he has more recently suggested he could vote in favor of one.

On Wednesday, he laid out his full proposal to the council, asking for an 18 percent tax cut paid through the $6 million estimated casino revenue per year, and a change in the sales tax agreement.

He said he would consider supporting the casino only if the council agreed to his proposal.

“We have an opportunity here that, if we did it right, would have a huge impact on the community,” he said. “But if we didn’t plan, it could be squandered.”

Other council members said they are familiar with his proposal, but they did not respond publicly to his comments.

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