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How to spend casino funds challenging for Cattaraugus County legislators

LITTLE VALLEY – Cattaraugus County legislators face a dilemma. With a large amount of casino revenue-sharing funds on its way from Albany, the lawmakers need to find a way to spend the money in the most prudent way.

When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made a stop in Salamanca at the end of July, he brought a symbolic check for close to $35 million. That money was the full share for the area, according to the settlement between the Seneca Nation and the state. Of that pot, Cattaraugus County is slated to receive $6.47 million. A prepayment of $500,000 was deposited in the county’s coffers the day Cuomo made his visit.

The problem legislators face is that there are three categories of funds, according to a locally constructed agreement with the City of Salamanca. The funds are divided into three tiers, and spending must be done in a specific order, with Tier I fully funded before Tier II can get any money and Tier II being completed before Tier III can get funds.

Tier I funds are used to make Salamanca and surrounding municipalities with tax-exempt population whole, in terms of tax levies. Tier II funds are for direct costs of having the casino located in the region, such as law enforcement patrols, district attorney costs, gambling addiction services, probation and parole.

Tier III involves economic development and tourism in the host region and that is the current stumbling block.

The Legislature is looking over proposals to determine the best way to spend some of the funds. Since the revenue coming in is meant to cover multiple years of payments, about $1.6 million has been earmarked for Tier III. County Administrator John R. “Jack” Searles asked legislators and department heads for ideas on spending the money and, in the course of two weeks, he had 56 preliminary applications for projects totaling more than $13.5 million.

“We need to look at these projects and decide what we really want,” Legislature Chairman Norman Marsh said. “We only have so much money available. There will have to be concessions made to figure out what’s best for the county.”

Some of the projects would direct the Legislature to set aside substantial portions of the revenue. To do so would allow the funds to roll over into the general fund in 2014, Searles said.

“This would allow for good financial management of emerging and unanticipated costs,” Legislator James Boser said in the project application. He calls for $100,000 to be added to the contingency budget that currently stands at $4,720.

Boser also proposed the creation of a revolving agricultural loan fund of $500,000. The loan would operate to help fund up to $25,000 for start-up agricultural businesses, to include machinery and equipment. Other proposals called for the expansion of countywide broadband and the implementation of a countywide Wi-Fi system.

A project that has been held in committee for a couple weeks would see the transformation of the former Kwik Fill gas station and convenience store in Ellicottville into a countywide visitor and tourism center. That project would be a 10-year, $40,000-a-year commitment from the county.

Other, smaller proposals are:

• $25,000 for the Cattaraugus County Museum in Machias.

• $350,000 to aid in the creation of a permanent, free-standing farmers’ market building in Olean

• $50,000 to acquire and refurbish the Carriage House owned by former Gov. Frank W. Higgins, in Olean.

• $500,000 for the new fieldhouse project at Bradner Stadium in Olean.

• $203,952 to aid in the transformation of the Peter Cooper site, a former protein glue factory and brownfield, into a gateway park to Zoar Valley in Gowanda.

• $104,388 to leverage grants in the renovation project of the Hollywood Theater in Gowanda.