State advances Cattaraugus County $500,000 in casino funds - The Buffalo News

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State advances Cattaraugus County $500,000 in casino funds

LITTLE VALLEY – As Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo stood at the lectern at Salamanca High School at the end of July, something completely unexpected happened on the electronic banking lines in the county treasurer’s office. An untagged $500,000 deposit from New York State appeared.

“Usually funds that come from the state have some sort of tag to tell us what they are for,” Cattaraugus County Administrator John R. “Jack” Searles said. “This didn’t have the information with it.”

The deposit was a pre-payment for the funds the county will receive as part of the casino revenue agreement signed between Cuomo and Seneca Nation of Indians President Barry Snyder.

“We were told that, when the governor made his visit, he wanted to make sure everyone that he visited had a little bit of something when he left,” Searles said.

That $500,000 that has already been received will be subtracted from the $6.7 million that is expected as part of the revenue agreement, Searles said. The funds are funneled through the City of Salamanca, to the county and the Salamanca School District through a local agreement.

Knowing that Salamanca is now expecting $34.9 million in total payments, less the roughly $7.5 million that the city has borrowed from the state since 2009, in place of revenue payments and the $500,000 prepayment to the county, very stringent rules are in place as to how the funds can be spent.

“There are three tiers of spending,” Searles said. “We start with the highest tier and work down until the money is gone, according to the local agreement.”

Tier I spending is used to make Salamanca and surrounding areas whole in property tax levies.

Tier II spending relates to direct costs associated with the casino being located in the region.

If funds are still available after the first two tiers, Tier III allows for funding economic development projects.

Cattaraugus County is expected to receive just a bit more than $1.8 million in Tier III funds.

Searles and Crystal Abers, the county director of economic development, planning and tourism, developed a plan for spending the money but it has not received a warm response from other officials.

Searles this week told members of the Legislature’s Development and Agricultural Committee to not look so much at dollars but percentages to be spent.

Those percentages were the crux of a debate led by James J. Snyder Sr., R-Olean, who expressed concern that only 27 percent of the funds would be coming in to the Economic Development Department, according to the draft proposal. Snyder said he sees that as a problem when a group is looking for a bit of help on a project in the county.

“We currently have four projects that are not an ‘If they come.’ They are here,” he said. “What you are saying with this [draft plan] is that, when I come to you on the farmers market plan for Olean and ask for $40,000, are you going to turn around and say it is not there in a $1.8 million pot?”

He was joined by Richard Klancer, R-Gowanda, who said he would like to see all of the funds that come in be designated in one pot to build the base for whatever is needed to improve on the development conditions of the county.

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