By Chris Maza
LONGMEADOW – Select Board Chair Marie Angelides provided a brief update on the town’s negotiations with MGM Springfield regarding a surrounding community agreement on March 3, indicating there has been a lack of progress.
Longmeadow was designated a surrounding community by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) on Feb. 18, giving the town a 30-day window in which to negotiate a mitigation settlement with the gaming company for adverse impacts resulting from the development of a resort casino in Springfield’s South End neighborhood.
Should negotiations fail, the issue would then go to binding arbitration.
Angelides explained that in its latest offer to the town, MGM presented a proposal that would address two specific intersections along Route 5 that were identified in the MGC’s hearing – Forest Glen and Converse Street – as needing improvement to keep services level and nothing else.
“They offered us funding for the initial repairs for the lights and a one-year look-back,” she said. “The money would be a percentage of repairs and the offer comes with a cap – up to $700,000, which includes payments for the cost of our attorneys.”
The commission determined that at the very least, Longmeadow qualified as a surrounding community based on the need for improvement of those traffic signals, Angelides explained. She said because of that, it appeared MGM has taken the stance that their newest offer would only address that issue.
“I hope the people at home understand that after not responding to our last proposal, MGM has given us a worse deal than the one they offered us before,” Selectman Alex Grant said. “Apparently they think they are in the catbird seat.”
After MGM offered Longmeadow $50,000 to offset legal and consultant fees, plus an annual $75,000 annual mitigation payment, the town’s countered on Dec. 19, 2013, asking for $950,000 in up front payments for infrastructure improvements and up to $100,000 in payments to offset the legal and consulting costs accrued during the process.
It also requested $500,000 in annual payments with a 2.5 percent annual increase and periodic “look back” studies, and the opportunity for Longmeadow to re-open negotiations with the gaming company should it expand its development in Springfield.
On Dec. 22, MGM Vice President of Global Gaming Development Michael Mathis informed Town Manager Stephen Crane that MGM would not accept the offer, but did not make a counterproposal.
Selectman Mark Gold questioned as to whether or not the representatives in the room for MGM had the power to make decisions or if they needed approval from others prior to coming to an agreement, suggesting that even the city of Springfield might have a say in mitigation agreement negotiations.
“If we don’t know, we should start making calls and find out,” he said.
Crane said in no discussions with the gaming company had he been told of a need for anyone else’s approval.
Angelides said she and Crane would continue negotiating in the hopes of reaching an agreement prior to arbitration.
Crane also outlined his preliminary recommendation for the fiscal year 2015 (FY15) budget at the meeting, calling for a total expenditure budget of $62.3 million.
The presentation was Crane’s first for the town. While he was present for the FY14 budget vote at the 2013 Annual Town Meeting, it was developed by former Acting Town Manager Barry Del Castilho prior to the Select Board hiring Crane.
A public forum at which the public can ask questions and raise concerns has been scheduled for March 11.
Crane explained that of the total budget, $53.9 million would come from the general fund and approximately 76 percent of the budget was non-flexible, including employee salaries (56 percent), employee benefits (12 percent) and debt service (8 percent).
Schools made up 58 percent of the town’s general fund budget at $31.4 million. The total multi-fund school budget would be $34.5 million. While the number was a 2.3 percent increase from last year, Crane noted the administration and School Committee made several cuts to keep the increase as low as possible, “keeping with the spirit” of the level service directive from the Select Board.
The public safety budget would increase by $2.7 million, representing a $29,244 increase due largely to a negotiated salary increase for patrol officers and a boost in funding for crossing guards.
The fire department’s budget would be approximately $2 million, a $47,339 hike related primarily to step and cost of living increases. The department was also facing a 23 percent increase in vehicle maintenance as its fleet ages, but that was offset by a number of other cuts, Crane noted.
The Department of Public Works would be allocated $3.5 million, an increase of $201,375, or 6 percent, which Crane attributed to the re-allocation of employee time, an additional long-term seasonal grounds employee – which he said ultimately could be a cost savings by cutting down on overtime pay – and a $46,735 boost in maintenance costs for Longmeadow High School.
Community Services would receive $1.6 million, a nearly $30,000 increase that resulted largely from new Veterans’ Service Agent Anthony Lawrence actively seeking out and finding veterans and families who were not taking advantage of benefits available to them, increasing the level of service by the town to its veterans by 300 percent. While the money is reimbursed, it initially comes out of the town’s budget, Crane explained.
Total capital expenditures, estimated at $3.3 million, including $720,000 for the purchase of a quint truck for the Fire Department, could realistically be fully funded, Crane said.