By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO June 20, 2003 Ever since Empire Resorts announced that it and the Cayuga Indian Nation are partnering to build and operate an Indian-run casino at Monticello Raceway, theres been nothing but controversy.
Sullivan County officials have continually stated that they will not support any project that they do not have a contract with. (The county has two $15 million-a-year deals with other tribes for separate casinos.) So far, Empire has a mitigation payment agreement only with the Village of Monticello, and thats for $5 million per year.
Empire and the Cayugas have continually stated they do not need an agreement with the county. The county and other state and federal officials have stated that without the countys blessing, the project will not move forward.
While Empire and the county have been negotiating, they are under a time limit from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to make a deal. They have until July 14 to reach a consensus.
Recently, the county sent a letter to the BIA opposing the project. County officials are also looking into possibly challenging the environmental review conducted by the Monticello Planning Board seven years ago. The argument is that things have changed, so a new study must be done which the county itself is looking into doing.
These events have angered Monticello Trustee and Deputy Mayor David Rosenberg.
I have been on the board 11 years, and I have never felt the need to call a special meeting, Rosenberg said in reference to an emergency meeting he called last week. I was furious by the reports I have seen and heard. I wanted to show that the village will not lay down. We did our homework and did our job.
At the meeting were Rosenberg, Mayor Gary Sommers, Trustee Victor Marinello Jr., and Manager Richard Sush. Absent were trustees Scott Schoonmaker and Mary Jo Oppenheim, Village Attorney Michael Davidoff, and Village Clerk Edith Schop.
Rosenberg accused the county of trying to kill the casino at the track. He wanted the village attorney to investigate the possibility of getting a cease-and-desist order from the county and to see if they were tampering with the villages agreement. Also, Rosenberg stated that if the village lost the casino, they would sue the county for $200 million in damages.
I went to the track and told them what I was going to do as a courtesy, Rosenberg remarked. If they told me it would make matters worse, I wouldnt have done it. They thanked me for fighting for them.
In the village, I have been accused of being a flunky for the track. That is not true. I fought just as hard for the previous owners.
Lets just get it up and running, Rosenberg continued. Lets move forward. They [the county] are afraid that when the BIA looks into the three agreements, they will see that the village did their homework and got real numbers. It will knock down their $15 million deals.
It is disturbing we have to fight. We should be on the same side in this.
No one from the Legislature or county government was able to attend, as they were holding their committee meetings at that time. However, the next day, reactions to the move came from both sides, starting with the village.
If there is any negative affect to block the project, the village is ready to take action, Sommers stated. This project is beneficial to the village. We have not done anything wrong.
The villages actions are understandable, commented Empire Vice President Charlie Degliomini. This does not have to do with us. This is between the village and the county.
County officials gave their reaction.
The county is trying to protect the schools, fire departments, towns, and villages in the county, County Attorney Ira Cohen commented. We are opposed to bingo [in the plans, there is a bingo parlor at the casino]. The others [the other two casinos] agreed to no bingo. The times have changed, and they have not changed the scope of the agreement. It needs to be looked at. This action [by the village] is not productive or mature. We are not trying to mess up this project.
I find it strange that we got a tolling agreement [to extend the negotiating period] the day before they did this, Sullivan County Legislature Chair Leni Binder said. This action is out of step. We have begun to talk to the track. If anyone is putting a crimp and is in danger of killing the racetrack deal, it is Mr. Rosenberg, the self-appointed spokesman of the village. I find his remarks self-serving and gratuitous. If the racetrack agrees with Rosenberg during these cordial talks, that will sideline the talks, and no action will be taken.
At the regular village board meeting on Monday, June 16, Rosenberg urged the board to pass a resolution commending members of the Planning Board for their work on the project. It passed unanimously.
Also, the county and all of the school boards will be meeting Monday, June 23 at 7 p.m. at BOCES in Liberty to discuss the matter. County officials are trying to set up a similar meeting with town boards and supervisors.