EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 14, 2013

Salem considers how to spend casino revenue

Proposal to cut Salem's take to 1 percent bothers many

By Doug Ireland

---- — SALEM — As state lawmakers consider slashing the town’s share of revenue from a proposed casino, Salem’s Casino Advisory Committee is deciding how the money should be spent.

Last week, the nine-member panel met for the third time since its formation in March. Selectmen formed the panel to generate advice on how Salem would spend the 3 percent share the town would get under casino legislation currently being debated in Concord.

The legislation, Senate Bill 152, allows for expanded gambling in New Hampshire and a single, well-regulated casino. The site would be selected through a competitive bidding process.

One proposed site is Salem’s Rockingham Park, where Millennium Gaming of Las Vegas hopes to establish a $600-million-plus casino complex.

Selectmen have asked the committee to offer the board three “strategic goals” for how those revenues should be spent, according to Selectman Michael Lyons.

The advisory committee includes Selectman Stephen Campbell, Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, School Board member Michael Carney Jr., and residents Gary Boutin, Howard Glynn, Carlo Luiso, Phil Cammarata, Richard Wilson and Harold Moore.

But only a day after the advisory committee met last Tuesday to examine the town’s revenue options, a House subcommittee proposed cutting revenue given to the host community from 3 percent to 1 percent. Subcommittee members will take a final vote on the proposal tomorrow.

The proposes amendment angered Salem officials, who said the town is counting on the money to relieve some of the widespread impact a multi-million-dollar casino would have on a town of 28,000 residents. That includes increased traffic and a larger demand for police and fire services, fire Chief Kevin Breen said.

Under the 3 percent proposal, Salem expects to receive about $13.5 million a year if a casino is sited at The Rock, according to Selectman Patrick Hargreaves.

Campbell said the proposed gambling complex — with a 300-room hotel and numerous restaurants — is expected to bring an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 people to Salem a day.

Town officials have said residents were also counting on the 3 percent revenue share when 81 percent of voters supported a casino at the polls in March.

Many of those same residents expect their property taxes to drop sharply if a casino comes to town, Campbell said.

That’s why the advisory committee is considering a plan put all the proceeds into at least two trust funds, rather than in the town’s general fund, Campbell said.

Money placed into the general fund can used for any purpose designated by the town, but trust funds are used to set aside money for specific purposes.

The committee, led by Morse, is looking at setting up trust funds to help reduce property taxes and to maintain the town’s infrastructure, Campbell said.

Committee members agreed Salem residents want to see how their money is spent, he said.

“People would then be able to see what they get,” Campbell said. “We all thought that would be a pretty good idea.”

The panel has until September to issue its recommendations, but the casino issued may be decided later this month when the full New Hampshire House votes on the bill. The vote is expected later this month. The legislation already passed the Senate.

Lyons, one of the five selectmen who support a casino, said yesterday he will wait to the hear committee’s recommendations before offering his opinion.

But he say there is a need to reduce property taxes in town and that should be one of the committee’s goals. Establishing trust funds is an effective way to make sure the money is spent properly, he said.

“Trust funds are a way to make sure money is spent the way it should be spent,” Lyons said. “I am a supporter of trust funds.”