Friday, August 15, 2008

Casino Study cites Monson

Casino Study cites Monson.

"I think this report is a starting point. ... It showed that the administration's numbers are off," Selectman Kathleen C. Norbut said this week. "They did the work the administration should have done prior to submitting the legislation."

Friday, August 8, 2008

Monson (or your town)

The letter below is what I drafted and submitted to Spectrum Gaming for consideration in the report to the Administration on the impacts of a typical abutting community to a potential casino site. Please note the Spectrum Gaming report that clearly articulates that the tax burden on abutting communities is a major spoke in the vehicle for transferring money to state coffers and casino owner/investors. Is this the public policy the Commonwealth supports?

I came into the world in Massachusetts in the 60's, there was idealism, hope and a belief that all Americans and communities in the Commonwealth were connected. Folks are much more jaded now than during that era, yet I continue to hope that citizens will engage and consider the many complex facets of proposing mega-casinos in Massachusetts.

"Casinos change everything"
- Spectrum Gaming representative

Town of Monson
Impacts on Education – 2008

The town of Monson offers PreK-12 public education with separate elementary, middle school and high school buildings/campus. The central offices are housed in a former school building. Monson high school students have the option to apply to attend Pathfinder Regional Technical Vocational High School in Palmer, Massachusetts. The Town of Monson is a member town of the regional vocational high school district, and is assessed an annual cost based on the number of students attending. Public transportation is provided for all students at no additional cost, PreK-grade 6. Student/families are assessed a rider fee of (FY 07) $1.00 per day ($180.00) to use school buses grades 7-12. Monson is a rural residential community encompassing 45 sq. miles with many students living in excess of 5 miles from the centrally located school campuses. Students/families are assessed athletic fees, parking fees (high school) and fees to participate in field trips as well as other school based activities. The school district no longer receives reimbursement for transportation or extraordinary special education (out of district, specialized van) transportation costs from the Commonwealth. There is no public transportation available in the Town of Monson.

Enrollment Indicators - Education Profile - Mass DOE website
Enrollment 1,525

Per pupil expenditures rank significantly below the state average: 2007
District $ 9, 075.00
State $11,868.00

The town supports education funding slightly over Net School Spending (the minimum figure set by the state) and provides additional funding through capital planning and repairs not included in the school budget.

A trend of grave concern to the school district budget is the increase of students opting for out of district placement through school choice and private or home school education which decreases available funds for the Monson School District.

Payments to out of school districts:
2006 = 5.3% of budget
2007 = 6.72% of budget

Potential surge in student enrollment trigger fiscal concerns primarily in the following areas:

Special Education: Including mandated placement out of district, specialized transportation, CNA-medically trained personnel, assistive technology and specialized out of district testing and evaluations.

ELL – specialized language teachers and materials not currently in the budget or staffing and not expected without an influx of new populations.

Transportation – the rural residential community of Monson with 113 miles of roads incurs significant costs to transport students. Additional buses and fuel to service additional routes and students without state assistance is untenable. Over 78 % of the roads are in poor condition (Pioneer Valley Planning Commission study) with additional traffic leading to further deterioration.

School Building Capacity- The Town of Monson invested with the Commonwealth in building an elementary school in 1992, renovating the Jr.-Sr. High School into a Middle School (2002) and the construction of a new High School (2001). The elementary school and middle school populations are near capacity, the high school is over 85% capacity. An influx of students would require reconfiguration of the schools and trigger the possible need for new construction.

Taxation and Revenues - The rural residential community of Monson tax base is residential. Property values for median single households, FY 2007 = $222,099 are significantly below the state average $406,673.

Income per Capita (1999), Monson : State = $22,519 : $25, 952.
Equalized Valuation (2006), Monson : State = $80,464 : $153,979.

The average residential tax bill ($2,825, FY 08) is a fraction of per pupil expenditure. The tax burden for student surge would be on the residential property owner in the Town of Monson.

Fiscal Year 2008 Average Single Family Tax Bill**

Number of Single Family Parcels
Assessed Value of Single Family
Average Single Family Tax Bill

State Average Single Family Tax Bill

Fiscal Year 2005
Fiscal Year 2006

The ability to raise and appropriate additional local revenues is restricted by Proposition 2 ½ and the realistic limitation of the community’s socio-economic status. The Commonwealth does not fully fund mandated Special Education, Special and Regular Education Transportation, mandated ELL instruction and materials. It is unknown if/what the Commonwealth would provide for school building assistance in the future should the Town of Monson require additional schools following recent construction of the middle and high school buildings.

Additional breakdown of local and state per pupil expenditures: The average residential tax bill ($2,825, FY 08) is a fraction of per pupil expenditure ($9,075, FY 07 - most recent available).The revenues needed to meet student surge would be assumed by a combination of state aid and the residential property owner in the Town of Monson. The tax base is rural residential with a low commercial tax base, and additional state aid (Chapter 70) would be needed.Special Education is funded locally until expenditures in excess of $31K per student are expended. At that point, the district is eligible for 75% reimbursement of extraordinary costs through the "Special Education Circuit Breaker" from the state. Projections for FY 09 Local receipts for education (raised from Monson taxpayers) = 5,089,159.State Aid (Ch 70) = 7,708,640 (about 64% of education funding in Monson is from state aid).Total foundation budget = 12,797,798.No County appropriations.FY 09, Local Tax Levy (maximum allowable under proposition 2 1/2) = $9,067,915.Assuming continued 36:64 ratio of local appropriation to state aid funding of education, each non-special education student that enters the Monson school district would inflate the budget by over $9,075 (FY 07 - it is higher for FY 08, but figures have not yet been released by DOE) with 36% needing to be raised locally and 64% from the state.

Incremental student increases require additional transportation funding which is no longer supported by state funds. The actual costs would be determined by the number of additional routes required.It is critical to note that education budgets are fluid and static numbers will only capture a portion of the challenges faced to support growing school districts. English language learners (ELL) may trigger mandated specialized instruction and materials as noted above that are currently not available in the district.

The current spike in mandated special education funding is nearly equivalent to the town’s entire increase in the 2 1/2 percent levy. The outcome of those increased educational costs has meant that the increases in fixed costs; energy, health insurance and pensions had to be absorbed in other areas of the town budget resulting in layoffs. Each spike in school funding negatively impacts other municipal operations because the town is mandated by Net School Spending but ironically, the municipality is not mandated to provide minimum public safety, highway or other services to the residents.

Respectfully submitted,

Kathleen Conley Norbut, M.Ed., LMHC
Local Casino Study Committee, Chairman

June 17, 2008

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Spectrum Gaming Consulting Report Released

Governor Patrick commissioned Spectrum Gaming to provide an independent analysis of the market, impacts and review of the casino legislation that he proposed October 2007 and was subsequently killed by the House of Representatives in the spring of 2008.

The report has been released with an eleven page executive summary and a three hundred one page full report .

The town of Monson is highlighted in the report. I had the pleasure of meeting the VP of Spectrum who visited our community and attended a meeting of the western MA Casino Task Force. The firm's representative was an intelligent man who listened attentively to concerns expressed by Selectmen and Town Councillors in our region. It was a pleasure to meet him and I am pleased that our community was considered in the report. The number one concern of Monson residents in a community survey about casinos was the "character of the town". We like our rural town and have grave concerns about the potential siting of a casino in an abutting community. The fiscal impacts of student surge are highlighted in the report.

The situation in Monson
Monson is a rural, residential town (8,359) in western Massachusetts – in many ways a typical small town in the state. Its school district had a school enrollment of 1,525 for the 2007-08 school year. It spent $14.4 million to educate its students, or $9,075 per pupil. Of that amount, 36 percent came from Monson taxpayers and 64 percent came from state aid.

Town leaders said they fear that a major casino resort built near Monson would cause the student population to swell from casino-employee families seeking to live close to their employer. Each non-special education student that enters Monson Public Schools would inflate the district‘s budget by $9,075. The amount could be higher if the surge included students who required special education or English language learners (ELL); there currently are no ELLs in Monson Public Schools. (We note that many of the families that are attracted to a region because it offers casino employment come from non-English speaking cultures. This often requires a concomitant investment in unanticipated programs such as teaching English as a second language.)
Further, the Monson elementary and middle school populations are ―near capacity and the high school is at more than 85 percent capacity. School transportation, which is funded locally, is another costly concern, according to Kathleen Conley Norbut, a Monson Selectman and Chairman of the town‘s Local Casino Study Committee. ―Additional buses and fuel to service additional routes and students without state assistance is untenable, she said. The school district already assesses students in grades 7-12 $1 per day, or $180 per year, to ride the school bus. (Update: Price increase for 2008-2009 - whoops, let me find our bill $210 for the year-KCN). With an average single-family property tax bill in the town of $2,825 for fiscal year 2008, town leaders say they would be forced to raise property taxes – perhaps dramatically – to adequately fund a surge in school enrollment. Most of that burden would fall on the residents, as residential property taxes account for 93 percent of the town‘s annual tax receipts. Norbut noted that in other nearby towns, such as Brimfield, Holland and Wales, residents account for closer to 100 percent of the local-tax burden. We recognize that even small changes in school enrollment in small communities can have a significant impact on school budgets. The Commonwealth must be prepared to offer financial assistance to such communities from mitigation programs, irrespective of the size of such impacts.

You betcha.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Borgata "Babes" and Poker "Stinks"

Here are a few choice news articles on the inside happenings of casino life.

"Borgata Babes" settle discrimination suit Fri, 01 Aug 2008 1:28 AM PDT
Two former cocktail waitresses have settled their discrimination suit against the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Atlantic City's most opulent attraction.

For large gambler, it's the Borgata that stinks
The Philadelphia Inquirer Fri, 01 Aug 2008 0:44 AM PDT
Michael Wax thinks he was the butt of a fat joke, and he doesn't think it's funny at all. Wax, 54, of Brooklyn, who weighs 440 pounds, already was annoyed that employees at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City had asked him to leave a poker table Tuesday because of his pungent body odor.

Weight program suit against casino settled Thu, 31 Jul 2008 5:07 PM PDT
A lawsuit brought against an Atlantic City, N.J., casino by former cocktail servers who objected to a mandatory weight program has been settled out of court. The $70 million lawsuit against Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa was settled before it could go to trial, but the details of the settlement were not released, the Press of Atlantic City reported Thursday.However, the settlement allows Borgata to ...

Thursday July 31, 2008 - 15:58 EST
Rolling Good Times Thu, 31 Jul 2008 1:03 PM PDT
The beauty about playing the slots online is you don't have to worry about your "odor" offending other players. Just ask Michael Wax. After a 17-hour poker session at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, the smell of the 440-pound man began to grate on his fellow players.

Sheesh! How regressive can Americans and an industry get? Put on your thinking caps Massachusetts.