Springfield Budget Bets On Casino Development

Jun 18, 2013

The proposed budget for the coming fiscal year in Springfield Massachusetts is balanced with the help of $5 million from casino developer MGM.  The money was included in the budget presented by the city’s mayor even though a  Springfield casino is not guaranteed.  Casino opponents are crying foul.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno ( seated at right) and MGM Springfield President Bill Hornbuckle sign the host community agreement on May 1 2013.
Credit WAMC

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno describes his proposed $571.8 million budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1st as a “ hold the line” budget.

The bottom-line in the budget actually represents a 1.6 percent increase over what the city is projected to spend in the current fiscal year. Additionally, the number of city employees would increase by almost 3 percent.   It is a far cry from the budgets Sarno  proposed during his first five years as mayor when  local aid cuts and plummeting property tax revenues translated to layoffs and cutbacks.

The mayor’s budget, which the Springfield City Council is reviewing, would close two  branch libraries, but would increase the weekly hours of operation at the remaining library locations.  New police officers and firefighters would be hired to fill  vacancies caused by retirements.  There is also money to hire more snow plow drivers, resume grass mowing at the city’s parks, and keep summer youth recreation programs.

Springfield is counting on more money from the state , but the budget also includes $5 million from MGM Resorts, the company that hopes to build an $800 million  casino in downtown Springfield.  The mayor is anything but subtle when talking  about what the MGM payments mean to the city’s finances.

The development agreement negotiated with MGM by the mayor included a so-called $1 million signing bonus, and a $4 million advance on the payments MGM will start making if it builds the casino. MGM needs voter approval at a July 16th referendum, and then must convince the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to award it the lone casino license available in western Massachusetts.  

Sarno said his budget honestly reflects the importance of the casino project and the benefits the city will receive if voters on July 16th approve the host community agreement

Springfield City Councilor Kateri Walsh says the mayor has proposed a budget that keeps city services popular with her constituents such as snow removal and swimming pools.

Casino opponents cry foul over the mayor’s budget

Michael Kogut is a Springfield lawyer who is the head of  the organization Citizens Against Casino Gaming, which was formed last fall to oppose the expected casino vote in Springfield.

Mark Mullan, a Springfield physician who is treasurer of the anti-casino organization, said Sarno has refused their call for debates ahead of the July 16th vote.

Sarno, through a spokesperson, said casino opponents should ask MGM to debate.   MGM officials reportedly turned down an offer from a media consortium to arrange a broadcast debate.