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Brasher officials plan for use of casino gaming compact funds

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BRASHER FALLS - Brasher officials will use the bulk of their latest casino gaming compact money to pay for engineering expenses related to the construction of their new highway garage.

They plan to use $34,740.75 of their $88,240.75 to cover the engineering costs of that project, which has been on the table for several years.

Town Supervisor M. James Dawson had noted in September that they had originally budgeted $1.3 million for the new building two years ago, and the cost estimates from Beardsley Design Associates, Malone, their architectural firm, indicated it could cost anywhere from $1.2 million to $1.5 million to construct it.

He said they had already spent more than $100,000 on the project, including the cost to purchase the land, conduct an archaeological study, drill and survey the property. There have also been expenses payable to Beardsley Design Associates.

Board members had moved ahead with plans for the garage in June, agreeing to enter into a contract with Beardsley Design Associates to begin work on the building. The current town garage located in Helena was purchased from the St. Lawrence Seaway for $1 in 1958, and they had to build the foundation and walls for the steel building that had served as a storage shed for the Seaway.

Town officials purchased 5.35 acres of property from Leon Dishaw on County Route 53 in Helena for $35,000 for the building.

Mr. Dawson said his intention is to construct the new highway garage using only casino gaming compact funds to avoid any impact on the town’s taxpayers.

They agreed this month to go out for bids for general construction work, plumbing work, heating-ventilation and air conditioning work and electrical work. Sealed bids are due by 4 p.m. Nov. 6.

In addition to using some of the latest casino gaming compact funds for the highway garage, town officials will use another $20,000 for tourism initiatives, such as the annual Winter Carnival, Summer Festival and the town’s cruise-in and car show.

They also plan to use $5,000 for gambling interdiction, which provides materials and speakers for students at St. Lawrence Central School.

Also on the list is $6,500 for engineering services for the proposed Brasher Falls Water District.

“I want some money there just in case we need it,” he said of the joint project between the towns of Brasher and Stockholm that at this point is still several years down the road.

Another $12,000 will be used for administration and, at the urging of Councilman Mark Peets, town officials also plan to set aside $10,000 that can be used to improve the multi-trail system in the Brasher State Forest, a move they hope will encourage the Department of Environmental Conservation to open trails in the forest for recreational use.

“There are different types of plans we can spend this money on. At previous meetings we’ve talked about the truck trails and ATVs in the forest. Why not invest some of the money into the trails?” he wondered.

“That would be fine. I have no problem with that at all,” Mr. Dawson said. “If we get approved for this, we can pump some more money into it.”

Councilman John M. Keenan suggested that in the future they should work with other towns that receive the funds - Massena, Bombay and Fort Covington - to consider pooling some of the funds in a way that will benefit the entire region. Brasher officials suggested setting aside funding for trails in the state forest could pave the way in that area.

“Somehow we have to get together. After things are taken care of for the town, if there is excess money we can put a project together. If we don’t talk, it’s not going to happen,” Mr. Keenan said.

Among the other future options was to look at pooling money for the Massena International Airport, according to Mr. Dawson.

“Let’s do some money for the airport. That’s one of my pet projects. That would help the whole region. A project like that is already pre-conceived,” he suggested.

“If we got a commercial jet service in Massena and brought in 150,000 Canadians, they would spend money and the more money the casino makes, the more the counties make. If they get 33 percent more at the casino, everybody else gets 33 percent. It helps Franklin County, St. Lawrence County and local businesses,” Mr. Dawson said.

The town’s plans were required to be submitted to Empire State Development for review and approval before they can spend the funds.

“Somewhere along the line this is ridiculous,” Mr. Keenan said of the short notice to submit their plans. “The state never tells us when we’re going to get a check. In the meantime, things can happen that we couldn’t see.”

Mr. Dawson agreed, noting that they had submitted a previous plan the first part of June and, two months later, had not yet received their check.

“I complained. (St. Lawrence County Legislator) Tony Arquiett complained,” Mr. Dawson said, noting they eventually got the check after a trip to Albany to air their concerns.

“Before the plane landed (back home), the money was wired to Canton and Malone (to the county legislatures). It was sitting there,” he said. “If you owe the state money, you pay interest and penalties. You can’t do it the other way around, so we’re at their mercy.”

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