By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO December 14, 2004 Sullivan County legislators continued to wrestle with the issue of gaming during an Executive Committee meeting on Thursday.
Chairman Chris Cunningham led the session, going around the table looking for suggestions on how to approach the new proposal of five casinos in Sullivan County to settle land claims between Native American tribes and the state.
New York State Governor George Pataki has made five land claim offers, which includes five casinos in Sullivan County. Four of the five tribes have agreed to the terms.
Two of the three factions of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe have agreed. The third faction was scheduled to arrive at a consensus this past Saturday. All five agreements still require approval from the State Legislature and United States Congress.
Minority Leader Rodney Gaebel said if the county was being offered five casinos or none, he would choose none. He said the county couldnt handle the enormous infrastructure impacts. Even three casinos would be saturation, in his view. He said the state shouldnt balance its land claim settlements on the back of Sullivan County.
No legislation has been proposed at the state level yet. Legislator Greg Goldstein stated over the weekend that he had spoken personally to Governor George Pataki, who assured him that the number of casinos would be up to the county. He added that the governor was apologetic for not including the county in the discussions.
Several legislators will visit Patakis counsel, Greg Allen, this Wednesday to discuss the issues.
Legislator Jonathan Rouis stated that the county attorneys office was currently reviewing the proposed impact mitigation agreements between the county and the Seneca Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma and the Cayuga Nation of New York, who are working with Empire Resorts for casinos at the Concord Resort and the Monticello Raceway.
The agreements are the countys foremost protection against any impacts the casinos would bring. Previously, legislators said the agreements would be similar to the $15 million-a-year agreements with the St. Regis Mohawks and Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans. Many local leaders have questioned whether those agreements are sufficient.
Five makes me very nervous, said Goodman.
LaBuda concurred with Gaebel that she would rather take zero than five. However, Rouis suggested the county be more patient and see what happens. Cunningham said he had yet to see the legislation.
Gaebel urged the county to state its objections to five casinos to the governor.
If we are not pro-active, the history here is not good, he commented.
In Other Legislative Business
In other matters, there was further disagreement over whether theres a need for a county human rights commission. Legislator Ron Hiatt has pushed the issue since he ran for office. Legislator Jodi Goodman is now one of its leading proponents.
She said the state takes too long to investigate claims. Hiatt said the state would still be in charge of prosecuting those who violated civil rights laws, but the county would now have the ability to conduct its own investigation and present it to the state. He believes the commission would be a deterrent against civil rights abuses. The commission would be budgeted for $50,000.
Gaebel said he was worried about the costs running higher, due to excessive attorney fees. Goldstein continued to oppose the measure, stating there was little need for it.
The measure passed the Executive Committee 7-2.
A public hearing on the 2005 budget on Thursday saw no public comment. County property taxes will rise approximately 4 percent if the full legislature approves it this Thursday.
Hundreds of county employees will also see a raise, as the Department of Public Works came to terms with the county on a deal similar to what the Teamsters recently were offered.
The deal would hand them a 2 percent raise retroactive to 2004, a 2.5 percent raise in 2005, 1.5 percent for the first half of 2006 and 2007, a 1.5 percent raise for the second half of 2006 and 2007, plus $100 a year for every year they have been employed for the next 25 years, according to Personnel Commissioner Pamela Rourke.
In other business, Paul Burckard, Director of Real Property Tax Services, reported that towns and school districts are now eligible to receive state assistance to compensate for tax-exempt forest parcels. The local governing bodies will have to apply for the aid, said Burckard. They are:
Eldred School District - $100,700
Tri-Valley School District - $18,100
Livingston Manor School District - $16,400
Town of Bethel - $25,800
Town of Cochecton - $19,200
Town of Forestburgh - $106,100
Town of Highland - $51,300
Town of Lumberland - $37,900
Town of Rockland - $12,500
Town of Tusten - $38,200