The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is being asked to pay out more than $2.5 million from a special fund to resolve problems blamed on the construction of the MGM Springfield casino.
The Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, a community health center, and two suburban municipalities have applied for Community Mitigation funds claiming unexpected costs and other hardships as a result of the casino project.
The sheriff’s department has requested $2 million to offset the cost of relocating a substance abuse treatment center. The Western Massachusetts Correctional Addiction Center was forced to move after 29 years in the same building in Springfield’s South End neighborhood to make way for the $950 million casino project.
Sheriff Mike Ashe first asked the state’s casino industry regulators for help last year.
"Regarding the mitigation money I know you are limited as to what you can do, but any help you can provide for us would be very very helpful," Ashe said to the commissioners.
But when Ashe appeared before the gaming commission about a year ago he had not found a permanent location for the treatment center, and was told to come back when he had. Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby signaled there would be a favorable response to the sheriff’s appeal for help.
" We have said repeatedly we will be as helpful as we possibly can," said Crosby. " I think everyone in western Massachusetts and elsewhere believes in the criticality of the sheriff's treatment facility, so we want to be supportive if we possibly can."
The sheriff’s department is proposing to permanently locate the treatment facility at a former nursing home in Springfield where the annual rent would be about $400,000 more than at its old location.
Ashe argues it would be unacceptable and unfair if the substance abuse treatment center, which takes jail inmates from all four western Massachusetts counties, were put out of existence to make room for a casino.
" It has been the crown jewel of a very very successful program in corrections," said Ashe. " Eighty-eight percent of the inmates who come here complete the program and the recidivism rates are outstanding."
The treatment center has been operating temporarily since last summer at the former Holyoke Geriatric Authority building.
Another application to the Community Mitigation Fund asks for $275,000 on behalf of Caring Health Center. Executive Vice President Jasmine Naylor said patients have a hard time getting to the clinic on Main Street because of a shortage of on-street parking and the closing of three parking lots due to the casino project.
"Parking is their main concern. They can't get to the doors. They're getting tickets from the parking authority," she explained. "It is really causing a barrier to the care they want and need."
Caring Health proposes to use the mitigation funds to set up valet parking for patients and visitors to the Main Street clinic, which is located directly across the street from the casino site.
The towns of West Springfield and East Longmeadow, citing possible increases in traffic, both want money for road projects
West Springfield is asking for $247,500 for design work on the Memorial Avenue reconstruction project. East Longmeadow’s request is for $100,000 to update traffic studies.
The gaming commission will accept public comments on the mitigation fund applications through April and is expected to make decisions on funding awards before July.
After a slow start in 2015, construction work is expected to intensify in the coming months as MGM looks to hold to a schedule that calls for the casino to open in September 2018.