By Martha E. Conway
(Town of Sullivan, NY – Oct. 2015) Jeannine Fadely of Bridgeport-Kirkville Road expressed concerns before the Sullivan Town Council over town residents’ not being informed that a casino was being erected in the village of Chittenango. She wanted to know how much money was being removed from the tax rolls.
Councilman Tom Kopp responded that the tax impact on the schools was about $90,000 and the village lost about $35.
Supervisor John M. Becker was not in attendance.
According to Fadely, she lived in Verona and saw firsthand the effects of the Turning Stone. She said it resulted in an avalanche of escalating taxes, and she was seeing the same thing coming in Sullivan.
“Now the Sav-Ons are going in,” she said.
Town attorney John Langey said the town doesn’t have any say in the affairs of the village and that the agreement that allowed the casino was a state issue … or higher. He asked how her prior hometown handled the matter.
“At least we got notice,” Fadely said. “Verona received money for the school, but I felt it was handled badly.”
She said the school received money for a limited time; it wasn’t an ongoing arrangement.
Fadely asked why the town wasn’t doing anything.
Langey explained that the village is a separate jurisdiction from the town, and that what happened in the village caused a lot of people to come to the town board with concerns.
“People don’t know when Native Americans purchase property, it comes off the tax rolls,” Fadely said, emphasizing that the town should have notified residents that the casino was coming. “I get numerous notices for sewer, but nothing about this.”
Village officials reported having about 72 hours’ notice before the Oneida Nation made its formal announcement of the casino’s planned construction.
Deputy Supervisor Bill Cole said economic development was the only positive thing he could see from the arrangement, and that the state hangs its hat on that; Fadely countered that all the Oneida Nation has to offer is minimum wage jobs.
“The county issued its objections,” Langey explained. “The town board has no authority.”
Mike Keville, resident and participation in government teacher at Chittenango High School, said there is some money being received by local governments as a result of the deal between the counties and the Oneida Nation.
“It’s compensatory for our losses,” Keville said, explaining he followed the matter in the news. “There is a cap to how much they can buy and take off the tax rolls. Cuomo forced the deal and prevented us from completing litigation in which we probably would have prevailed.”
“The town is not protecting us,” Fadely said.
“We will investigate and report on the tax impacts,” said Councilman John Brzuszkiewicz.
“I don’t think any other organization could shut down Route 5 so quickly,” Cole said. “It shows how much power they have.”
Langey repeated that the town board has no authority to negotiate in state and federal agreements, but that all town supervisors met and voted on the matter at the county level.
“The casino is in the village,” Langey said. “Are you going to the village with these concerns?”
Councilman Kerry Ranger said he attended meetings where the state-county deal was discussed, and nothing was mentioned about a casino in the village.
“There’s nothing I could do as a town board member,” Ranger said.
“John Becker was on the front lines fighting that fight,” Langey said. “The counties were told ‘this is what you’re getting,’ and teams of attorneys were paid hundreds of hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process.”
“The casino is completely separate from the agreement,” Keville said. “The Nation deals directly with the federal government regarding its lands. The village found out when everybody else did and smiled and took it because there was nothing they could do. If you are nice, sometimes you get what you want.”
Langey agreed, saying the town is not a player at that table.
“Once it’s taken off the tax rolls, there is no say what they can do with the property,” Keville said.
“You are not transparent about what’s going on in the town,” Fadely said.
Brzuszkiewicz said another positive impact is the ancillary businesses that will come with the casino.
“What is the plan to make up for the loss of taxes?” Fadely asked.
Brzuszkiewicz said the town does three- and five-year plans, and they can’t always forecast.
“You have a good point,” Brzuszkiewicz said. “It is going to change Chittenango dramatically, and it will impact taxes.”
In other business
Ranger said he had spoken with a Cicero code enforcement officer and hammered out a potential arrangement to have this individual come in at a $300 per diem rate – a flat fee to perform initial inspection through reinspection and report, including mileage, to handle special cases in the town. The flat fee covers everything except testifying in court.
Langey said he knows Cicero’s lawyer and will review the potential arrangement and discuss it with their attorney.
Ranger said it would work under an inter-municipal agreement, like the Bridgeport Fire Department handles mutual aid issues.
The council went into executive session for the advice of counsel with no action expected to be taken.
The Sullivan Town Council will meet again Nov. 4 at 7 p.m.
Martha E. Conway is vice president of M3P Media, LLC, and publisher of the Madison County Courier. She can be reached at 315.813.0124 or by emailing email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/marthaeconway or Facebook at facebook.com/meconway.