|By G. Michael Dobbs
Reminder Publications submitted photo
SPRINGFIELD If MGM Resorts International is selected by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission as the recipient of the one license for the western region of the state, City Councilor Timothy Rooke has an idea on how the $25 million fee MGM would pay should be at least partially spent: property tax relief for residents and businesses.
Rooke explained to Reminder Publications he believes a majority of the council would support such a move.
As chair of the Board of Assessors, Richard Allen explained at the City Council meeting on May 10, at which the council ratified the host agreement with the casinos developer, the city's tax situation would not allow Springfield to fully realize the increase in potential revenue the more than $800 million project represents.
Allen was able to use a state law Chapter 121 A that established an arrangement in lieu of property taxes with MGM officials. For the next 40 years, if the casino comes to the city, MGM would pay $25 million to the city.
Rooke said that Allen negotiated such an agreement while Mayor Domenic Sarno made an effort to convince the Legislature to pass an amendment to the Proposition 2 1/2 legislation that would've allowed the city to tax the casino at a rate outside of the prohibition.
Rooke characterized Allen's approach as "a better route to take."
Although Rooke said the members of the mayoral administration as well as some members of the council already have expressed ideas of how this additional revenue should be spent, he added, "Businesses and residents should be given a priority."
Rooke said he didn't agree with the move that Sarno had made in the past of using some of the city's reserves to create a tax break.
"I'd rather give tax relief than make government bigger," he said, adding the city has a "unique opportunity" with the new income.
The city councilor would like to see Springfield adopt a program that Holyoke and Chicopee has had for a number of years: a tax abatement program for the elderly in which they could get a property tax credit for volunteering in city positions. The revenue from the casino might allow the city to implement such a program.
Rooke hopes that Sarno will "reach out" to the council to discuss the idea.
"This is a common sense approach," Rooke said. "It's more pragmatic than political."
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