By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO February 11, 2005 The Sullivan County Legislature arguably made the most historic vote in its existence yesterday when legislators voted 6-3 on a resolution in favor of New York State Governor George Patakis legislation for five casinos in the Catskills.
Voting in favor were Sullivan County Republican Party Chairman and Legislator Greg Goldstein, who introduced the bill; Republican Leni Binder; Republican Jodi Goodman; and Democrats Ron Hiatt, Jonathan Rouis and Sam Wohl.
Voting against the measure were Sullivan County Legislature Chairman Chris Cunningham, Democratic Majority Leader Kathleen LaBuda and Republican Minority Leader Rodney Gaebel.
The vote for the casinos followed a measure to table the resolution by LaBuda, which failed 5-4. Hiatt joined the motion to table, after a long speech mostly about the negative aspects of the proposed legislation. Even so, he voted for the bill.
The resolution expressed the legislatures support for the five casinos, along with several vague conditions.
The conditions include: asking for the appropriate environmental reviews, that the state indemnify the county in case one of the tribes does not pay its share of the $15 million-a-year impact fee or its local taxes on goods (the tribe will not pay any property taxes or sales taxes on its gaming operations), and that the state cooperate on school funds and Interstate 86 monies.
In the final analysis, those supporting casinos believe it will provide an economic engine that will greatly improve the county. They said it would bring new jobs and businesses and help existing ones. They believe $15 million-a-year arrangements with each casino will be sufficient to guard against the wide-ranging impacts to its schools, roads, crime and other infrastructure costs that over 30 million projected visitors a year would bring.
Indeed, Goldstein said he was doing what he thought was right for the county.
Those voting against it unanimously argued that the governors bill left too many questions unanswered. They said the vagueness of the bill leaves the county open to many negative impacts that it would not be able to control, including the aforementioned one.
Their vote on the bill was one of the last pieces of leverage they held, they said. Cunningham stated that several of the legislators had been negotiating with Patakis counsel, but none of their recommendations had made its way into the state bill. The chairman called the bill bad negotiating on the part of those supporting it.
The vote followed another round of public comment, largely against casinos, although many in the audience were union ironworkers who passionately expressed their support for the bill. The legislature has seen increasing comment from county residents who oppose casinos.
The State Senate and State Assembly have announced public hearings on the matter. New York State Senator John Bonacic has scheduled a hearing at the Sullivan County Government Center Hearing Room for early March.
Complicating matters, however, is that Patakis spokesman Todd Alhart has said several times during the course of the week that the state has no intention of providing any additional funding to the county for infrastructure costs. Alhart said the county must work out any agreement for those costs with the tribes.
The state will contribute a portion of the revenues from electronic gaming devices, or slot machines, from upstate casinos back to the counties in northern New York, but not for Sullivan County.
The state legislation will require approval from the United States Congress as well, including local Congressman Maurice Hinchey, who this week had urged the County Legislature to delay the vote to give more time to studying the impacts of five casinos.