By Carley Dangona|
WEST SPRINGFIELD – Just a week prior to the special referendum where voters will cast their vote on the Hard Rock New England (HRNE) resort casino proposal, citizens voiced their concerns before the Town Council.
Prior to the Citizen Speak Out portion of the council meeting on Sept. 3, President Kathy Bourque read the Town Charter rules to reiterate that each speaker would have five minutes and that the entire Speak Out could not exceed 30 minutes without a vote from the council.
The councilors approved the extension, allowing 45 minutes for residents to discuss the HRNE plans. Bourque commended the audience for their courtesy and respect of one another.
After the majority of speakers took their turn, President and CEO of the Eastern States Exposition (ESE) Gene Cassidy spoke. He said, “Unfortunate for me I don’t live in town at the moment, but I was born and raised here, I was educated here, my value system certainly was hatched here in West Springfield.”
Cassidy continued, “I have intentionally played a low-key role in the community outreach in respect to promoting the casino, but I am the face of the ESE. We’ve heard a lot tonight, some of which is profound and very reliable and some of it is profound and unfounded. The fact is the town of West Springfield and the ESE – as one of its largest taxpayers – was really threatened in a dramatic way by the potential for a casino to be operated just 300 yards down the road and across the river.”
He urged residents to go online and read both the MGM Springfield and HRNE host community agreements. He called the HRNE contract “a much more regional agreement.” Cassidy cited the main concern [of any binding document] as the “health, safety and well-being of its citizens.”
Cassidy said that the best way to maintain this for West Side residents was to obtain the license for a casino on the ESE property because the campus atmosphere would provide a safer environment.”
Resident William Ralph said, “To bring a casino to a town is like setting off a bomb. And, when you set off a bomb, of course the worse damage is done at the epicenter – right in the middle. In other words, if that bomb lands here the worst damage will be done here. If it goes to Springfield, that’s unfortunate for Springfield, but we’ll be away from the epicenter. We’ll get damage, but nothing like what Springfield will get.”
He added, “The revenues that the casinos all operate on, not just Hard Rock, are the losings of people who gamble. They do not produce a product. They do not offer a useful service to anyone. They simply are a siphon or funnel for people’s money.”
Linda Williams, a lifelong resident, said, “I have a heart for West Springfield. The issue is not whether we want a casino; Western Massachusetts will get one. The issue is do you want the money spent in West Springfield, Springfield or Palmer.”
She cited many benefits such as improved roadway infrastructure and employment opportunities. Williams commented that if the gaming contract is awarded to Springfield, West Springfield would still have to deal with the impact, but without the revenue to do so.
The issue of the animal control ordinance was also discussed. District 2 Councilor Lida Powell said that a finalized draft had been completed and would be available for review by the public starting Sept. 9. The matter is tentatively scheduled to be discussed and voted on at the council’s first meeting in October.
At-large Councilor George Kelly requested that a letter be sent to Mayor Gregory Neffinger and the Attorney General’s office to inquire if the Town Charter had been breached.
Kelly believed that using outside sources to investigate an internal affair regarding Police Capt. Daniel O’Brien, who has remained on paid administrative leave since an alleged 2011 incident, goes against the charter that states the Public Safety Commission is to conduct investigations.
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