A poorly worded clause embedded on page 67 of the 111-page Upstate Gaming Act of 2013 has had Niagara County Republicans and Democrats fuming and fighting - although that is nothing new.
The dubious clause wound up amending Section 99-H- 3 of the state finance law which concerns casino cash for Niagara Falls. By adding 99-H 3-A -- a sliver of a payment goes to Niagara County too.
Under the old 99-H-3, Niagara Falls gets 25 percent of the state's total take on "the net drop from electronic gaming devices" culled from the Seneca Niagara Casino.
The new clause - H-3-A, gives Niagara County (and several other counties in Indian territory) a tiny - about one percent or so of the state's take - - greater or lesser - based on the population of the county.
Niagara County gets about $1 million a year.
Niagara Falls gets about $18 million a year.
Because of the curious wording of the 99-H 3-A- it is unclear as to whether Niagara Falls should get a slice - about $100,000 - of the county's significantly smaller casino pie.
The hazily written clause in H- 3-A reads "(D)istribution (of casino funds) shall be made among such counties on a per capita basis, excluding the population of any municipality [i.e. Niagara Falls] that receives a distribution pursuant (from 99-H 3)."
Republicans say H-3 is for Niagara Falls and H-3-A for the rest of the county.
Democrats acknowledge that H-3-A says the total money a county receives is less because the population of Niagara Falls is excluded. But Niagara Falls should still get some of the county money since H 3-A does not explicitly say Niagara Falls can't get some of the money.
During the Dec. 9 budget meeting, Republican Majority Leader Richard Updegrove sponsored a resolution establishing the Niagara County Tax Relief Fund and Niagara County Community Development Fund, which provides for disbursing funds realized by 99 H 3-A. Republicans excluded Niagara Falls from taking any of the county's casino money.
The towns of Cambria, Hartland, Lewiston, Lockport, Newfane, Niagara, Pendleton, Porter, Royalton, Somerset, Wheatfield and Wilson and the cities of Lockport and NorthTonawanda would split the dole of one million - based on respective populations - and most of it would go to tax relief.
Niagara Falls would still have the whole of its $18 million to spend on animal shelters and concerts, to give to USA Niagara, hand out to the NTCC and the Underground Railroad Heritage Commission, and to not for profits - who lost their executive director, or failed to pay thier payroll taxes - and stipends and raises for its $100,000 city hall executives - andeven new carpets for the offices of its senior planner.
But the Democrats cried "foul".
"How do you distribute all this (county casino) money to every municipality except one?" said minority leader Dennis Virtuoso. "That's not fair. It's a slap in the face."
Lee Park, a spokesman for the state's gaming commission said, "According to the gaming commission, the revenue going to the county is unrestricted. It's up to the county to determine where it goes."
It doesn't bar money going to Niagara Falls.
But neither is the county required to give money to Niagara Falls.
With a 11- 4 Republican plurality in the county legislature, majority rules.
Niagara Falls will have to scrape by with their $18 million this year, and without the additional approximately $100,000 from the county's casino cash.
It seems fair.
The amount Niagara County gets is based on population - and Niagara Falls' population is not counted - because it already gets loads of casino cash.
Therefore, Niagara County, with a population of 218,000, is counted as having only 170,000, because Niagara Falls is subtracted, which means the county gets about $1 million - instead of $1.3 million - give or take.
A rational person would think that since Niagara Falls' population is not counted in determining the amount of money the county receives, Niagara Falls should not be included in the distribution of county money.
And of course it is not as if Niagara Falls will have no casino cash of its own. They still have their $18 million.
But, if Democrats insist, there is a compromise the Reporter would recommend.
If the county is expected to share its casino cash with the city, perhaps the city should share its casino cash with the county.
That should make everyone happy.