State sends $2.35M advance to Salamanca amid ongoing casino dispute

U.S. Congressman Tom Reed, R-Corning (right) met Sept. 4 with Salamanca city officials, including Fire Chief Nick Bocharski, to discuss the lack of financial support from New York state during the ongoing casino compact dispute with the Seneca Nation of Indians. The city received its first advance payment from the state Friday in the amount of $2.35 million.

SALAMANCA — City officials in Salamanca can rest a little easier now after a check from New York state in the amount of $2,350,000 arrived in the city Friday.

State officials in Albany announced last week the city would be advanced $4.7 million to help Salamanca make it through the rest of its 2019-20 budget year without having to dip further into reserves.

These state funds come after more than two-and-a-half years without Seneca Allegany Casino revenue payments coming into the city to help balance the budget.

But what about the rest of the $2.35 million?

City Comptroller Kathy Sarver said the state is hoping the ongoing dispute with the Seneca Nation of Indians over the casino compact agreement will be settled before the next scheduled payment in December.

“If it is settled, then there won’t be any need to advance us any money because we’ll be getting the payments from (the casino),” she said. “It’s just an advance. If and when the casino compact issue is settled, we’ll have to pay the state back this money.”

The primary use for the initial $2.35 million is to pay two new firefighters recently hired by the city, Sarver said. Salamanca’s common council approved the hires Sept. 11, the same day the city was notified the funds would be coming.

However, the main reason for the advance is to help the city get through March 31, 2020 — the end of its fiscal year — without having to dip further into reserves for this year’s budget.

“With this, and the money we’ll be getting in December, we’ll be able to make it through this budget without any problems and we won’t have to worry,” Sarver said.

A three-member arbitration panel announced in January 2019 that it upheld the state’s challenge to the Seneca Nation’s claim that revenue-sharing payments to the state were not required past the 14th year of the compact, which ended in the fourth quarter of 2016.

After the Nation announced in April an order to pay $225.5 million in held-back casino revenue was an improper amendment to the compact and asked for further review, the affected municipalities looked to the state for help.

With no funding from the casino coming into the city since 2017, Salamanca officials first reached out to the state for assistance this summer without much luck. But in recent weeks, pressure from local representatives, including U.S. Congressman Tom Reed, R-Corning, and Assemblyman Joseph Giglio, R-Gowanda, gave the city some hope.

“There was a press conference with Congressman Reed and the mayor, and after that press conference came to light, the state budget department contacted us and told us what it was we needed to do,” Sarver said.

Sarver said after Reed’s meeting with the city Wednesday, Sept. 4, the state contacted the city that Thursday and informed her of what information was needed. By Monday, Sept. 9, everything had been sent and the state informed the city on Sept. 11 the money was coming.

“From that time to the time they told us we were getting the check, it was only a matter of less than a week,” she added. “Once the budget department reached out to us, their personnel were very helpful in securing this money for us.” Sarver said the $2.35 million will go directly into the city’s general fund.

Planning ahead by previous city administrations had allowed the city to make it through the 2017-18 and 2018-19 budget years with no problem thanks to a healthy surplus in reserves.

Although more help from the state is on the way and potential back payments could be coming if the compact issue is settled, Sarver said the city doesn’t expect to do the budget any differently next year.

“It was just this year that it was getting down to crunch time,” she said. “I think we’re going to try to keep everything status quo.”

(Contact managing editor Kellen Quigley at kquigleysp@gmail.com)