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4 FALLS COUNTY LEGISLATORS FIGHT SUIT TO TAP CASINO TAKE

Angry over a Niagara County lawsuit to take 75 percent of the City of Niagara Falls' casino revenue, four county legislators from the city are pushing for the suit to be dropped.

Legislator Renae Kimble is the lead sponsor of a resolution to revoke the lawsuit, which is on the agenda for Tuesday's Legislature meeting. Co-sponsors are Sean J. O'Connor, Rebecca E. Cuddahee and Dennis F. Virtuoso.

On April 5, the Legislature voted 14-4 to file a suit seeking "equitable distribution" of the local share of money generated by slot machines at Seneca Niagara Casino.

There was never any mention in Legislature debate of trying to grab 75 percent of the casino money from the city. The local share this year has been estimated at $11.6 million.

"We were sandbagged," Kimble said Friday. "We shouldn't be having this lawsuit in the first place. The premise is wrong."

The suit seeks 75 percent of the casino cash on the grounds that Niagara Falls has only 25 percent of the county's population. The suit also asks for an injunction barring casino payments to Niagara Falls unless the county is paid, too.

Niagara County played no role in negotiating the casino deal and has never received any money from it. State law and the casino compact between the state and the Seneca Nation call for payments to a "host municipality," but neither document defines that term.

Kimble also objects to the county's hiring of attorney Michael Powers, of the Buffalo firm Phillips Lytle, for $310 an hour to work on the case. She said when the county hires outside attorneys, they are normally brought before the Legislature in closed session.

County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said that didn't happen in this case, but he denied that is normal procedure.

Asked if $310 an hour is excessive, Majority Leader Malcolm A. Needler answered, "Not at the amount of dollars we're talking here. We're talking millions and millions of dollars."

Kimble said, "It's a possibility the resolution (to drop the suit) could pass. I do know there are some people on the other side of the aisle (who will vote yes)."

Needler, R-North Tonawanda, said he could block an immediate vote (but) "I don't think I would. I'd be interested to see how that vote would come out," he said.

Needler said he hopes the lawsuit will entice Niagara Falls to resume negotiations with the county over the casino money. Those talks went nowhere in March, and Mayor Vince V. Anello said the county never mentioned the stance it took in the lawsuit.

"Certainly the lawsuit they filed doesn't reflect the notes I have from that meeting," Anello said. "What we're doing with the casino revenues benefits the whole county. The way the lawsuit stands right now, it has no merit."

"I know I've got options to put on the table other than what the lawsuit says," Needler said.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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