Concern raised over proposed gaming-revenue plan

Published Oct 11, 2018 at 4:00pm

A representative of one of Oneida County’s smallest towns told county lawmakers Wednesday his town would be hurt if it doesn’t get a share of Oneida Nation gaming revenue in 2019.

Jim Dowd of the Augusta town board was the only speaker at a brief public hearing on the proposed $419 million 2019 budget.

He said the town got notice last week that County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. allocated no money for municipalities from the county’s share of gaming revenue in his spending plan he unveiled Friday.

Picente explained that municipalities who have not been part of the agreement in its first few years now want to join it, but that means negotiating a new way to spread the money.

In any case, Dowd told lawmakers, the loss of the revenue would be a hard blow for
Augusta. “We can’t survive without it,” he said.

Legislature Chairman James Fiorini of Rome told Dowd it’s just a proposal at this point and nothing has been set.

The comment came as the Legislature begins reviewing Picente’s spending plan with a target of adopting a budget by mid-November. The Ways and Means Committee was briefed later Wednesday by Picente and his staff.

In exchange for ending litigation over taxing Nation lands, New York state and Oneida County entered an agreement to share in a portion of revenue the Nation earns from gaming on its lands in Oneida and Madison counties, primarily from the Turning Stone resort casino.

In an effort to hold municipalities and school districts harmless from lost tax revenue, the county reached an agreement in 2013 to share its share with the city of Sherrill and town of Augusta and later, village of Vernon and Sylvan Beach, at a rate of about $52 per capita.

Now, the towns of Vernon, Verona and Vienna would like to join. In his budget presentation Friday, Picente told lawmakers that they and he will have to work out what to do, whether it’s come up with a new sharing formula or set up a fund using the money but dedicated to a particular purpose, such as road maintenance. He didn’t remove funding for affected school districts.

Ways and Means Committee members didn’t raise the revenue-sharing issue during their meeting Wednesday, but some members representing the affected municipalities expressed concerns separately.

Colin Idzi, whose district includes Augusta, said the town has only a small bit of Oneida Nation land but that he understands that its share is significant for the town, which includes Oriskany Falls. He said he and other legislators don’t want to leave the affected municipalities out and will have to find ways to help them.

“We’re going to sit down as a group and see what kind of a plan we can come up with to at least get them something,” Idzi said “We don’t know if it’ll go back to where they were, what this current agreement gives them, but we’re hoping to give them something close.”

Legislator Norman Leach, whose district includes some of Vienna, Vernon and Sylvan Beach, said he’s heard both pro and con because some of the municipalities receive a cut now and some don’t but want in.

According to Picente’s proposed budget, Augusta was to get $126,460 in the 2018 budget, and would have been getting $152,244 in 2019.

Other localities and what they would have gotten: Sherrill, $231,466; Vernon, $88,338; Sylvan Beach, $67,608.

Picente has kept revenue for school districts in his 2019 executive budget: $911,386 for VVS, $101,277 for Oneida, $8,963 for Madison, and $5,259 for Stockbridge Valley.

Sherrill is among localities that have raised the issue.

Mayor William Vineall has spoken with Picente about it as the city prepares its 2019 budget, according to a statement from City Manager Brandon Lovett.

“The City Commission remains optimistic that there is the opportunity for the city of Sherrill and Oneida County to continue our relationship,” Lovett added.