Niagara County receives no money from the Seneca Niagara Casino, and with a property tax increase looming in January, County Legislator Richard E. Updegrove is taking a swing at changing that.
Updegrove, R-Lockport, has introduced a resolution for Tuesday's Legislature meeting calling on the State Legislature to pass a bill giving the county 25 percent of the local share of the casino's slot machine revenue.
He admitted it's a long shot. "I haven't seen a lot of cows flying lately, but you never know. I think the state understands they've put a burden on our backs," Updegrove said.
State Sen. George D. Maziarz and Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte both have bills under consideration in Albany on how to divide the local share of the casino cash, but neither bill includes anything for the county.
Both would send most of the money to the City of Niagara Falls, with the remainder going to other agencies in the area, including the Niagara Falls School District, the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp., Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center and the construction of a new terminal at Niagara Falls International Airport.
The bills differ on control of the money: Maziarz would have the state dole out fixed amounts to all the recipients, while DelMonte would give all the money to the city and let it pass out funds to the other entities.
Updegrove said Niagara County, like Niagara Falls and the school district, lost tax base when a chunk of downtown Niagara Falls was given to the Seneca Nation. The county was also hurt because nothing sold on Seneca land is subject to its sales tax.
"I think the county is an affected host community," Updegrove argued. "We're not being compensated for our losses." He said he didn't know how much the county had lost as a result of the casino.
The resolution promises that if the county received casino money, it would be used only for "economic development projects."
Maziarz said, "I guess I'd have to hear from them what their reasoning is. How much tax revenue did they lose? What economic development projects (would they fund)? Everything's on the table, but I think they are a little late in coming in."
Legislature Majority Leader Malcolm A. Needler, R-North Tonawanda, said he thinks a county cut of casino cash is "long overdue. When the negotiations were originally on, we asked to be part of them, and we were told 'no.' "
Updegrove and Legislator Peter E. Slominski, R-North Tonawanda, are sponsoring another resolution Tuesday, urging the State Legislature to pass a constitutional amendment legalizing non-Indian casinos.
Updegrove said that's another way for the county to benefit from gambling, because a casino not owned by Indian tribes would be taxable. Such an amendment would have to pass in two consecutive State Legislature sessions before going before the voters in a statewide referendum.