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Towns vie for share of casino dollars
PARIS — Concerns about traffic congestion, managing growth, the misuse of income leading to additional strains on social services, and heavier usage of emergency services have led to a discussion among towns to discuss the reallocation of casino revenues.
Norway, Paris, Poland, Oxford and Mechanic Falls plan to ask the state legislature to establish a regional impact fund that would defray potential costs caused by the casino's presence.
"Although the precise impact has not been defined, enough concern is expressed by our police and fire departments to warrant a meeting on this matter," said Paris Town Manager Phil Tarr.
Representatives from the towns, and Rep. Terry Hayes, planned to meet on the issue last Friday, but the date has been postponed due to the snowstorm.
One major theme that has emerged from preliminary discussions is a desire to present a united front that includes Oxford, abutting communities, and Black Bear Entertainment (BBE), the company which plans to break ground on a casino this spring.
Oxford is already slated to receive 2 percent of net gaming revenues at the casino, but has worked with the other four towns to draft an informal "talking points" document that frames the effort. "We need to show solidarity and mutual support," reads the draft.
The document identifies several negative impacts that could arise in the communities that surround the casino. Among them are increased demand for emergency services due to cases of embezzlement, drug use, and traffic accidents.
The draft statement acknowledges that there will also be some positive effects created by the presence of the casino, but says that a regional fund is needed to combat the negative effects, which could come more quickly.
"There will likely be some positive valuation and growth in our communities that may support some of the impacts, but not immediately," reads the statement. "The other worrisome impacts, however, may start occurring on day one."
If the effort gains steam, state legislators will have to amend the bill associated with the statewide referendum that passed in November.
A bill, "An Act To Protect Public Safety in the Operation of the Oxford County Casino," has been introduced into the legislature by Rep. Michael Carey (D-Lewiston) to amend that citizen initiative with any changes needed to bring it into harmony with existing laws.
Currently, the bill is acting as a "placeholder," and has no original language of its own. As amendments become necessary, they can be inserted into the blank bill, which will then be presented to the legislature for passage.
There has been no formal recommendation made that would identify which funds, exactly, would be curtailed in order to create the regional impact fund.
"We're not looking to take from anyone," said the draft statement. "There must be some ingenious, flexible way to assure great ongoing regional response to any downside casino impacts."
However, Tarr has mentioned the Penobscot Nation and the Passamaquoddy Tribe, which collectively are slated to receive four percent of the casino's net slot machine revenue, as examples of communities that will benefit from the casino without suffering similar negative impacts.
In a letter to the Maine Municipal Association seeking legal advice related to the issue, Tarr said that Oxford is the only town that will directly benefit from the casino's presence.
"Due to the fact that the Town of Oxford is the only community near the casino that directly benefits from any economic activity created by the casino," said Tarr, "several towns in this area would like to see a small portion of the proceeds remain in Oxford County, perhaps for economic development purposes. Therefore, we would ask the legislature to make adjustments in the distribution scheme."