|By G. Michael Dobbs
If the MGM casino is built, the annual payments it makes to the city could be used, at least in part, to lower property tax rates in the city, which are among the highest in the Commonwealth.
Reminder Publications submitted photo
SPRINGFIELD Revenue from a casino in downtown Springfield may be applied to lowering the property tax rate in the city.
Mayor Domenic Sarno released the following statement on July 9: "While I cannot predict future budget demands with any certainty, I can say that casino revenue will be applied to the tax rate. I would expect this to have a significant and positive impact for Springfield taxpayers."
This was the first time Sarno had addressed the issue.
The statement came just a few days before city residents would go to the polls to either endorse or reject the host agreement with MGM Resorts International.
Some residents and city councilors have questioned whether or not the revenue from the casino would be used, at least in part, to offset the city's residential tax rate, which is the 13th highest in the Commonwealth and its commercial rate, which is the fourth highest, according to the Executive Office of Administration & Finance.
In comparison, Worcester's rates are the 26th highest for residential and 28th highest for commercial.
City Council President James Ferrera II told Reminder Publications, "I believe it [casino revenues] should [be applied]. It's truly the only way every resident would receive a benefit from having a casino."
Ferrera said that such an allocation of the annual fee would be at Sarno's discretion and there "is no guarantee" that such a use of the money would happen.
City Councilor Timothy Rooke brought up the question during the meeting at which the council approved the host agreement with MGM Resorts International earlier this spring. Chair of the Board of Assessors Richard Allen explained at the meeting the agreement uses Massachusetts General Law Chapter 121 A to establish an annual fee for the next 40 years for the casino an agreement that sidesteps property taxes on the three-block location in the South End.
The payment is $24 million a year, which doesn't include other mitigation funds.
Allen had had previously told Reminder Publications that because the city was at its property tax ceiling and its levy ceiling, it would not see all of the immediate benefits of adding the MGM property to the tax rolls, if the Massachusetts Gaming Commission grants them the sole license for the western region of the state.
An effort earlier this year to amend Proposition 2 1/2 so the MGM property could have been taxed was lobbied by Sarno at the Legislature, but the bill has not seen any action.
Rooke has asked for a decision if some of the annual fee could be used for property tax relief. "I think it makes perfect sense to have a decision to find out what, if any, relief is available," he said.
Rooke added that he has been waiting Allen to present an analysis of the funding and how it might be used.
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