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County gets $873,000 from casino and sees need for spending policy

Niagara County has received its biggest share yet of Seneca Niagara Casino profits, and county legislators are discussing the creation of a formal policy on how to spend it.

County Treasurer David S. Broderick said Friday he received a check for $873,000 earlier this month. It represented most of the county's cut of 2007 slot machine profits at the Niagara Falls gambling hall.

In January, the county received a $103,000 check, and it has spent all but $3,000 of it, Legislature Chairman William L. Ross said.

The spending was done in dribs and drabs, as the legislators suggested allocations to favored events and organizations in their home districts.

But Ross, C-Wheatfield, said that has to change, now that the county is seeing bigger checks from the casino.

"If you're going to have a steady stream in place, you've got to have a plan," Ross said.

"The compact says it has to be used for economic development, including marketing, tourism and job creation," Broderick said.

"We should set parameters on the definition of economic development," Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, who is also chairman of the Economic Development Committee.

"Through conversations with fellow legislators, there's a consensus we should look for projects that would have a significant investment or employment," he said.

Ross himself co-sponsored an allocation of $2,500 for prize money for a barbecue contest held by an Eagles Club in his Wheatfield district. Although much of the casino money could be considered pork, it was the only case where pork was actually on the menu.

"More than 1,000 people were there. I thought it was money well spent," Ross said.

Money was sent to several events, includes Canal Fest in the Tonawandas, the Celtic Festival and Pirates Festival in Olcott and the Sanborn Winetique Festival.

Also, money was sent to Lewiston, Ransomville, Barker and other locations for small local improvement projects. A motorcycle rally was funded, as were Old Fort Niagara, the Niagara Falls Veterans Memorial Commission, the Niagara Community Center, the Aquarium of Niagara and Twin Cities Community Outreach in North Tonawanda.

There also was a $2,500 appropriation for Niagara University to conduct a feasibility study of a proposed tourist trolley between Niagara Falls and Lewiston.

"I think we didn't know how much to anticipate in future years. The [spending] opportunities were limited," Updegrove said. "I think it's important that we set up a formal policy and adhere to it stringently."

However, he said it hadn't been decided when his committee would take up that issue.

In the meantime, legislators continue to seek small pieces of the casino pie.

Tuesday's Legislature agenda includes a request by Updegrove and his Lockport colleagues Anthony J. Nemi and W. Keith McNall to send $10,000 to the Historic Palace Theater.

And Ross and Legislator Danny W. Sklarski are co-sponsoring $5,000 for a building restoration project at Das Haus, the German heritage museum in Bergholz.

Ross said both of the requests will be referred to Updegrove's committee for discussion.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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