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Push To Restore VLT Aid Continues As Budget Deadline Nears

The state capitol in Albany
Dave Lucas

With a New York State budget due in less than a month, local officials in Saratoga Springs are counting on the restoration of state aid.

For hosting gambling at Saratoga Casino Hotel, Saratoga Springs has traditionally received state aid to offset potential public safety costs. Aid for communities with so-called racinos was established in the 2006-2007 budget.

But faced with a looming multi-billion dollar budget hole, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s annual budget proposal eliminated the VLT aid for some municipalities.

For Saratoga Springs, that adds up to about $2.3 million, and for Saratoga County, about $775,000.

Local officials reacted swiftly. Here’s Democratic Saratoga Springs Mayor Meg Kelly during her State of the City address in January…

“Our goal is to restore VLT at least to its current amounts.”

At Tuesday night’s city council meeting, Saratoga Springs Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan introduced a resolution urging state officials to reconsider.

“This resolution is part of a greater effort by the city’s elected officials to reinstate VLT aid including a letter campaign, join legislature testimony, press releases, conferences, one-on-one meetings with state officials. We’re doing everything that we can for the restoration and to get the restoration of VLT aid back into the budget,” said Madigan.

Madigan read the resolution aloud before its unanimous passage.

“The unexpected loss of VLT aid would force the city to consider tax-levy increase of between 10 and 12 percent, five to six times the state’s property tax cap,” said Madigan.

A similar measure was passed by the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors in late February.

The measure reads in part:

“The loss of such VLT Impact Aid will result in a loss to the County of critical public safety funding and could lead to a reduction in the provision of public safety services…”

In February, Mayor Kelly, Finance Commissioner Madigan, and Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton appeared at a state budget hearing in Albany. During her testimony, Dalton explained that during a round of VLT aid cuts a decade ago, the city’s police force took a hit.

“10 years ago we had to let go 14 fire and policemen because of the loss of VLT aid that year, and operated with 57 active-duty police officers. As of today, we are operating with the same number – 57 active duty police officers – while the city and the events we host have grown astronomically over the last decade,” said Dalton.  

Democratic State Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner and Republican State Senator Daphne Jordan have also been advocating for the funding, but it is still up in the air as to whether the VLT aid will be included in the final budget due April 1st.

Assemblywoman Woerner, a Democrat from the 113th District, says it’s unfair that the governor’s budget cuts aid to only some of the communities home to gambling.

“The reality is that he is not proposing to take that aid away from Yonkers, he’s not proposing to take aid away from communities that host casinos. He’s only proposing to take it away from some of the communities that host racinos,” said Woerner.

Woerner says she is hopeful the Assembly will include the aid in its one-house budget due March 18th.

NOTE: WAMC has reached out to a spokesman for Governor Andrew Cuomo for comment. 

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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