Finance Committee has voted to endorse Zoning change for Merrimack Valley Casino.
Last Thursday evening Tewksbury's Finance Committee met to discuss and vote on Article 1 of the Special Town Meeting to be held Tuesday, 20 August. This letter is strictly based on the notes and observations on this committee member and it is written in the hope that it will help the public make an informed decision when they vote at the Special Town Meeting on 20 August. I want to emphasize how much work the members have done before voting and that we made every attempt to make an unbiased decision based on facts and our independent research. This letter is not a press release or an official notice from the Finance Committee.
The Chairman opened the meeting with comments on why he thought it was necessary to vote on this article and not just defer it to the Zoning Committee. This article, if passed, will have a long term effect on the town's finances. Because we are the stewards of the town finances, we owe it to the townspeople to vote on the article. Ultimately it's the voters who decide and we need to ensure that this article gets to them.
The Town Manager was asked to talk on his due diligence report, conducted in conjunction with our Fire and Police Chiefs. In conference calls with Public Safety officials where Penn National Gaming had opened up casinos, the other officials found no significant changes and that having the casinos helped them increase their respective departments. One Police Chief commented that the local department store was more of a problem than the casino. It was mentioned that Real Estate values increased and there was no negative impact on businesses. The Town Manager said that the other casinos were larger than the one proposed for Tewksbury and he believed that Penn National looks like a good neighbor.
A committee member spoke on his research in creating his own Pro Forma. He used information from government websites, the national gaming commission and his professional experiences of a lifetime performing this type of construction. He found that the figures given to us by Penn National as far as the cost of building the facility, the revenue estimated by the slot machines and number of employees that would be working at the facility looked to be accurate and well within the ball park.
I commented on research that I did by visiting a casino, not run by Penn National, it was slightly smaller but there were many similarities. I mentioned that I had seen signs of increased business activity in the area and that traffic was not a problem. The area was clean and well kept, very few patrons were drinking and there was no sign of the crimes believed to be associated with casinos.
I brought up the question of the morality of gambling. I don't believe gambling is immoral, if it was I couldn't have spent several years volunteering to work the Bingo at my church.
There was a lot of discussion on whether the casino was right for Tewksbury, if we could renegotiate the agreement with Penn, the time we had to do due diligence and research. The discussion also included whether we could get another industry in its place and the information that we hadn't received yet.
After nearly two hours of discussion the Chairman called for a vote. The vote was four Yes and one No, the motion passed; the Finance Committee will recommend adoption of the article at the Special Town Meeting.