CARS HOMES JOBS

Region better served by siting casino outside Spa City

Friday, January 24, 2014
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Region better served by siting casino outside Spa City

Re Stephen Williams’ Jan. 19, article, “Bad bet or sure thing?”: Recently, there has been much talk about casino location. Earlier rhetoric included regionalism, a concept that looked at benefits provided over an area wider than a city or town; perhaps Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer and Saratoga counties; maybe with some synergy. The casino issue has relegated regional concern to a nonstarter.

Mr. Williams and others on the Gazette staff have represented the conflicting “facts” surrounding the siting issue. The governor will decide where the casino goes in this area. It should be located based on the perceived maximum return to the state (maybe not a bad thing); and a decision will be delayed until various special interest groups have had an opportunity to express their positions through campaign contributions and lobbying efforts (we will have to wait until after the elections this year, just like fracking). What the residents of Saratoga think is irrelevant!

But Saratoga, as Williams et al. point out, is unique. There is already a casino there that appears to have had a net positive impact on the city and area. I myself only go a couple times a year; usually just send a check, it saves gas. There are divergent opinions on the impact of change. Having racino employees rally on the issue seems pretty transparent! However, I believe some of the divergent opinion is based on interpretation of what the change involves. Adding live table games to the existing venue would enhance or extend the experience, but only for a few; and would have a positive contribution on the area.

Adding 24-hour operation, free cocktails, hotels, upscale dining, VIP nightclubs and entertainment, and convention, meeting, and event space would have a net negative impact on Saratoga and the rest of the region. And a severe negative impact on existing venues.

[Saratoga Casino and Raceway spokeswoman] Rita Cox is quoted extensively by Williams. Her comment about losing jobs if [the casino is] located elsewhere is well-taken, although the numbers are suspect. And any impact on the unemployment rate in the Saratoga area would be minimal. Cox is, at best, disingenuous when she says the racino would continue to direct customers to downtown. She is quoted as saying it will help the restaurants, entertainment venues, conference facilities and hotels downtown when the racino adds competing facilities at its own location. Do she and her employer think we’re all lemmings?

Ms. Cox says she doesn’t want multiple casinos (against the law, anyway) or neon lights. She just wants a destination venue designed to entrap the visitor. Certainly swimming pools and golf courses would be added to such a mecca! That’s what “full-service” casinos are designed to do. The racino doesn’t want to add just table games; they want to create a larger empire with disregard to negative impacts on others.

From a more “regional” prospective, why would the city of Albany even consider a downtown convention center separate from the ones proposed for Rensselaer or Saratoga, or the old Tobin facility? Why not integrate the concept (and available dollars) into the state-licensed casino site? Or locate the casino and convention center on the land already available in the city of Albany? Natural synergy with cross fertilization!

Jay Murphy

Clifton Park

Amsterdam mayor’s golf club plan a loser

On behalf of Amsterdam’s Common Council, I would like to explain our override of Mayor Ann Thane’s [golf course] vetoes [Jan. 22 Gazette].

The Common Council wholeheartedly supports “Joe the Pro” [Merendo} for this position. Joe has held this position for over 30 years, yet at no time was a city employee with a salary, paying into the state pension system, or a member of the city’s insurance program.

Instead, Joe worked under a services contract. He received a small salary when he began, which has now increased to $25,000 for a seven-month season; bought and stocked the pro shop; and leased and rented out golf carts. He received the benefits of providing these services along with any private lessons, including the huge numbers of kids he has taught to play golf. He also employs people who work for him (not the city) in the pro shop and cart maintenance, and pays for cart gasoline at his expense, not the city’s. Joe shows up at 6 a.m. to unlock the carts and closes up at dusk. He works holidays, come rain or shine.

There is also a concessionaire contractor [Laura Elmendorf] who has been there almost eight years and under her contract has had to pay for her own kitchen equipment. Her last [seasonal] contract price was a bid of $27,000. She is required to pay the utilities and trash pick-up.

The Golf Commission which oversees Muni is supposed to be made up of city residents. Instead, the mayor appointed two individuals from the town of Amsterdam, with the consent of corporation counsel. That was clearly not the intent of the charter. As a result, a lawsuit to resolve this issue was brought against the city by Joe. (It is still pending.)

We are of the opinion that this commission acted illegally and did not have the authority to go out for a request for proposals for a new golf pro, concessionaire or manager. In fact, the mayor has wanted Joe gone for several years, but could only act when she had a commission that would do her bidding.

The compromise the mayor offered Tuesday is a sham. Since Joe has never been a city employee and is not in the state pension system, he would enter at a Grade 6, which would require him to pay into the plan for 10 years before he could become vested. That would hardly be reasonable for a gentleman in his 60s. And since Joe’s income is not made up of just his salary of $25,000 (it also includes the fees from the lessons, cart rentals, and the pro shop sales), he would lose a substantial portion of his income. The city threw in insurance, a $4,000 cost.

Over 100 people signed a petition that if Joe were not there, they too would leave. Muni and the city could not sustain this kind of loss, and there is no guarantee that whoever came would bring anywhere near those numbers. While our population may be increasing, it is not of the demographic needed to sustain a golf club through annual fees.

This is first and foremost a recreational facility and should not be used to support the general fund. The golf course is self-sustaining and is not costing the city money. Its monies are in a separate account. It is fee-paying members who are paying to maintain the golf course, not city taxpayers.

It is one of the goals of this council to come up with a template for a contract that can be used for all facilities in the city, so this does not happen again.

Diane Hatzenbuhler

Amsterdam

The writer is 4th Ward alderwoman.

Some things belong in no one’s backyard

How ironic that Peter Henningson’s Jan. 21 letter should appear on the same day as Froma Harrop’s syndicated column [“West Virginia a cult, with polluters as leader”] concerning the recent chemical spill in West Virginia.

I have to disagree with Mr. Henningson’s opinion regarding what he calls NIMBYs [not in my backyard]. The people who live near a project and whose quality of life would be most affected by it, are the ones who should be most concerned. Read the article about West Virginia, where the state’s population has allowed big corporations to rape and pillage their environment repeatedly, all in the name of greed. Is that the kind of world we want, where anything goes?

I would also differ with Mr. Henningson’s statement that Saratoga lost out because of protests over development of the Route 50 corridor, thus driving retail business into Wilton. Saratoga is the most viable downtown area around. There are loads of stores and restaurants, and the sidewalks are always filled with people. It is far more appealing than the big-box, traffic-packed area in Wilton.

You may want to read that article on West Virginia, Mr. Henningson, and perhaps you’ll see that NIMBYs have an important role to play in our society.

Pauline Boehm

Rexford

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