Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tiny Freemansburg Big Winner in Casino Impact Grants

"I am confident in the gamblers of the Lehigh Valley that they will do their committed duty and spend at the Sands Casino."

Those were the marching orders of Stephanie Hoppes-Kovacs, Hellertown's representative on Northampton County's nine-member Gaming Authority, which on October 25 made their first award of gambling impact grants, totaling $1.3 million, to three municipalities.

Instead of taking our money, the one-armed bandits at Bethlehem's Sands Casino are finally finally giving back to places hit hardest by gambling. The grand prize - $825,000 - went to tiny Freemansburg (population 2,063) for a police processing and holding facility. Other big winners were Hellertown (population 5,738) and Lower Saucon (population 10,000), who received the balance of the $1.3 million awarded for police officers, law enforcement training, cruisers, ambulances, pedestrian crosswalks and traffic light signalization.

Bethlehem Township (population 20,000) is larger than Hellertown, Lower Saucon and Freemansburg combined. But it was still the big loser. Despite three applications for an ambulance, police cruisers and a traffic signal device - items similar to what were awarded Hellertown and Lower Saucon - it kept rolling snake eyes. Bethlehem Township failed to supply the documentation provided by other municipalities.

Thomas Nolan, Bethlehem Township's voice on the Authority, repeatedly complained that many of the grants being awarded to Hellertown and Lower Saucon are "budgetary line items" and "annual operating expenses." Then, when he attempted to justify a ambulance for Bethlehem Township, Authority Chair Jay Finnigan turned Nolan's argument against him. "Shouldn't that be part of the budget process?" asked Finnigan.

Northampton County also lost out on a $480,000 criminal justice sharing system despite an impassioned plea from Bethlehem Assistant Solicitor Joe Kelly, who argued this would "better arm police officers" and "make the Lehigh Valley a better place."

During a 2 1/2 hour hearing, the nine-member Authority actually rejected ten of the seventeen applications. Kovacs, a tireless advocate for Hellertown, tried very hard to convince Authority members to go along with a new dump truck. Failing, she wisecracked that they'd now need "sled dogs to get to the casino."

Now the Authority has a more daunting task. It must review 57 applications for grants that require no casino impact. "I don't think we can hear 57 applications," warned Authority Chair Finnigan. So they decided to form a three-person subcommittee to "prescreen" requests. Authority Solicitor Scott Allinson advised that this subcommittee need not meet publicly, but Bethlehem's spokesperson - Joe Kelly- recommended that all meetings be conducted in the open.

Authority members also plan to review the criterion by which they rate grant applications. Alicia Karner, who has been collecting the data, advised there is a too wide a discrepancy in the ratings.

The Gaming Authority will meet again on November 22, 5:30 PM, at the Northampton County Courthouse.


Jon Geeting said...

It's nuts that Freemansburg has its own police force. That's so much unnecessary overhead when they could easily be served by a few Bethlehem cops driving a few feet outside their territory. It really burns my ass to think that this sort of thing is wasting peoples' money all over PA.

Anonymous said...

After Callahan's brother-in-law antics and BPD cover-up, Freemansburg is best advised to not trust the Bethlehem system for protection. It might be considered later after the current BPD and Bethlehem City Hall are cleaned up a bit.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Jon, It would be a good thing, but should be voluntary.

Anonymous said...

There would be more money available had Stoffa not agreed to "give" over half the casino revenue to Lehgih county and Allentown.

Probably the worst decision by a Northampton County Executive ever. His incompetent move cost Northampton county taxpayers at least $2 million a year.

He has been like a curse on the County.

Anonymous said...

To the 2:55 AM

I think your disdain for Stoffa has your facts mixed up. The decision to share revenue was made by the local concensus of state legislators, so that a license could come to the Lehigh Valley.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Boscola helped with that deal. She's one of the best Senators in Lehigh County. Thank you Lisa!

Anonymous said...

Politicians at Freemansburg are the sharper than the rest. They proved an impact by the casino, 20 years before it was even built!

In 1988 their station wasn't compliant, even grandfathered, but got casino impact money to fix their compliance issues?


Anonymous said...

Can any of these communities REALLY prove that they are impacted by the Casino to the point that they need these type of things? I bet not. This is nothing more than a popularity contest to dole out extorted money from the Casino's all over the Commonwealth. No wonder why there are no hotels or malls associated with the casinos. Money to put into those type of improvements are going for unneeded municipal graft.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Yep, Freemansburg did pretty well for itself.

Anonymous said...

Hey NYC liberal - then move back here, pay taxes here, run for office here, and see how your ideas fly. The bitching from NY is getting old.

Anonymous said...

One would think Fountain Hill taxpayers about now would be up in arms over the Casino Impact Grants that seem to avoid this tiny borough. Tons and tons of gambling traffic daily passes through Fountain Hill and yet it continues to receive pennies on the dollar by way of the casino distribution plans. Why?

Anonymous said...


Thank you!

Anonymous said...

"One would think Fountain Hill taxpayers about now would be up in arms over the Casino Impact Grants that seem to avoid this tiny borough. Tons and tons of gambling traffic daily passes through Fountain Hill and yet it continues to receive pennies on the dollar by way of the casino distribution plans. Why?"

Lehigh County also receives money from the casino for distribution...ask them where Fountain Hill's share is.

Kudos to Freemansburg...they need something good down there.