Montco lawmakers want county's casino revenue to benefit parks, abuse victims

Posted: July 18, 2012

Three Montgomery County legislators have written an amendment to the state's gaming law that would set aside the county's share of casino revenue for park improvements and to help victims of abuse.

House Bill 2552 would alter the state gaming act passed in 2004 to change the way the county's 2 percent share is siphoned off and then used.

Under current law, the county's cut from the Valley Forge Resort & Casino goes directly to the Commonwealth Financing Authority, where it is doled out for local tax-supported building, water-supply, and waste-water projects.

The Valley Forge gaming parlor - Pennsylvania's 11th - opened March 31. It has 600 slot machines and 50 table games, including blackjack, craps, roulette, and Pai Gow poker.

To gamble, players must be patrons of the Valley Forge Convention Center and its amenities, including restaurants, bars, or shops, spending at least $10.

Of the county's cut - estimated at $1.2 million each year - $900,000 would go to refurbish and maintain the county's seven parks, five historic sites, and 60 miles of hiking trails, said State Rep. Marcy Toepel (R., Montgomery), a sponsor of the amendment, whose district covers the western side of the county.

"It makes sense to make the casino money work here in Montgomery County," Toepel said. Her co-sponsors include State Reps. Mike Vereb and Todd Stephens (both R., Montgomery).

Mission Kids and Laurel House, two local nonprofits, would each receive a yearly subsidy of $150,000 from the casino revenue, Toepel said.

Mission Kids supports and advocates for child-abuse victims, especially when they have to testify against the abuser in court.

Laurel House shelters women who have been victims of domestic violence, helping them and their children adjust to new lives free of the abusive partner.

Vereb said the dedicated funding to Mission Kids would be especially timely because "everyone is talking about child abuse."

Since January, 2011, the county has slashed $871,000 from its parks budget, including the layoff of four employees and the elimination of three open positions.

It also closed the Nature Center at Green Lane Park, dropped the annual Scottish/Irish Festival, privatized boat rental at Deep Creek Lake and Green Lane Reservoir, and cancelled the concert series at Norristown Farm Park.

The layoffs included one of three environmental educators, an office support person, an administrator, and a maintenance person.

Asked if any of the jobs would be restored, County Commissioners Chairman Josh Shapiro said he could not discuss personnel matters. He said the county was committed to a top-flight recreation program.

Toepel said her amendment had bipartisan support, but conceded it would be tricky to get the legislation through the House by the fall.

"It will be a heavy lift, but I'm going to do everything I can," Toepel said.

Editor's Note: This story was corrected to reflect that the parks budget cuts have been since January, 2011, not this year.


Contact Bonnie L. Cook at 610-313-8232 or bcook@phillynews.com. Read her MontCo Memo blog on philly.com.

 

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