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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

NorCo Gaming Board Gears Up For Another Year of Grants

Northampton County's nine-person Gaming Board is off to a late start this year. Its first meeting, scheduled in January, was canceled as a result of a snow emergency, so it started one month behind schedule on February 23. This body was created by Northampton County Council to distribute the slots tax revenue received from Bethlehem's Sands Casino, Table games tax revenue, which is doled out by the County, can be used for any purpose that is deemed to be in the best interests of the county. But for slots tax revenue, priority must be given to Bethlehem and the municipalities surrounding the casino, i.e. Freemansburg and Hellertown Boroughs, as well as Lower Saucon, Bethlehem Township and Hanover Township

This nine-person board consists of one representative from each of the five impacted municipalities, as well as three at-large members. The impacted municipal members are Joe Kelly (Bethlehem); Tom Nolan (Behlehem Township), Gerald Yob (Freemansburg), Jay Finnigan (Hanover), Dave Heintzelman (Hellertown) and Dave Willard (Lower Saucon). The at-large members are Tony Pristash (Northampton area), John Dally, Jr. (Slate Belt) and James Pennington (Nazareth area).

Finnigan, despite his protest, was unanimously selected Chair again. Kelly is Vice Chair, Dally is Secretary and Nolan is Treasurer. The Board's Executive Director is Karen Collis, who is also an employee of the County's Department of Community and Economic Development. Legal advice is provided by Scott Allison and Graham Simmons III.

In 2014, the Gaming Board awarded $1.5 million in two rounds of what they call restricted grants. These were awarded to Bethlehem and the municipalities surrounding the Christmas City. Those awards, most of which were public-safety oriented, required a showing that the community has been impacted by the casino.

Before the meeting, Mayor Yob, who is Freemansburg's representative on the gaming Board explained that pre-casino, Freemansburg had only about 67 police incidents on a monthly basis. But now, that number has grown to over 300.

Last year, the Gaming Board also awarded another $711 thousand to municipalities in Northampton County, based on a showing of need.  Those grants also went mostly to public safety enhancements like new police vehicles, or in the case of Upper Nazareth, thermal imaging equipment.

The Board decided to eliminate the requirement that interest money earned on grant monies be returned to the County. Collis explained that, for over 130 grants awarded, the County only received back about $2,000 in interest money. "It seems like a lot of work for not a lot of money," reasoned Board member Pristash.

The Board's Compliance Committee has agreed to meet with Freemansburg, which is struggling with an audit of the grant for its new police station. Borough Manager Judith Danko explained that it's a lot of extra work for a small borough that provided a six-month report, twelve-month report and closeout. "A lot of this is redundant to what was submitted," she explained, adding that the material being sought is stowed away in 18 separate boxes of documentation.

Collis reminded everyone that applications for the first round of restricted grants are due on March 4. The Board will begin its review of those grant applications at their March 23 meeting.

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