McClure: ‘Gaming Board’s time has come and gone’
When he was a member of Northampton County Council, Lamont McClure drafted the legislation creating the county’s nine-member Gaming Board. As executive, he wants to abolish it. “The Gaming Board’s time has come and gone,” he told council last week. “I brought the Gaming Authority into the world; it’s time to take it out.”
Northampton County’s Gaming Board was established to award grants of tax revenue collected from the slot machines at Sands Casino. Priority had to be given to the five municipalities bordering Bethlehem, along with Bethlehem itself. But the law was changed recently. Now the slots taxes are going to the Commonwealth Finance Authority (CFA). This is a seven-member body consisting of four legislative and three gubernatorial appointees. All four legislative votes are needed to approve a grant.
Ironically, the same state legislation that removed local control over slots tax revenue from Northampton County gave it to Delaware County, where a county-controlled authority will award grants. “(We) didn’t want that money to go through CFA,” said Mike Rader, chief of staff to DelCo Sen. Tom McGarrigle. “We wanted it to go to a local authority.”
Northampton County has lost local control. But several Gaming Board members and other local officials were at the April 5 council meeting, not quite ready to go gentle into that good night.
The reason? $1,255,000. Those are the funds still held by the Gaming Board. Northampton County wants that money, and introduced an ordinance to seek a court order abolishing the Gaming Board. But Gaming Board members think it should continue to award the remaining funds to municipalities.
Gaming Board Chair Jay Finnigan, in an email to local officials, asserts that his Board still has the authority to dole out what’s left in the till. “If you just took the remaining funds and split it between each municipality evenly, the distribution would be approximately $31,000,” he wrote. “This would also allow the authority to pay all its professional obligations, and then dissolve once we fulfilled our legal requirements.”
Finigan led a small procession of local officials at the council meeting. Tom Nolan, a Bethlehem Township Commissioner, told council that he opposes the ordinance. So does Lower Nazareth’s new township manager, Lori Stauffer. Hanover Township Supervisor Michael Prendeville emailed council, and urged them to vote no. “[T]he mere optics of a ‘smash and grab’ will not bode well for the council,” he argues.
But McClure has a different interpretation of the new state law. “The state has ... empowered us to keep whatever is not committed,” he told council. “This is not a mere money grab to fill a budgetary gap.” He said the money could be used for the salary and benefits of staff within the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED). It could also help fund the Regional Crime Center, located in Allentown.
“It is not good government to have an authority continue to grant money when it is about to be abolished,” he concluded.
Peg Ferraro said that, in her opinion, the gaming authority should disburse the remaining funds. “It is not appropriate for the county to take money, give it to DCED or any other department to disburse,” she argued. “I think we have to exercise some patience and think about this over the next two weeks.” She said that when the dollars are gone, the board could be abolished.
Council is scheduled to vote on the ordinance April 19.