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Grant asks Longmeadow Selectmen to take stance against gaming

Date: 5/29/2014

By Chris Maza

LONGMEADOW – At the Select Board’s May 19 meeting, Selectman Alex Grant reiterated his desire to see casino gaming defeated in Massachusetts and urged the board to take a stance on the issue.

Grant called the recent favorable ruling in the surrounding community arbitration hearing with MGM that resulted in an $850,000 up front payment and $275,000 in annual mitigation payments over 13 years an “imperfect compromise” and “the best we could get under the circumstances,” but said the only way to mitigate casino issues was not have one in the area at all.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently heard cases for and against a statewide referendum vote to repeal the current gaming law. The citizen’s group Repeal the Casino Deal petitioned the high court after Attorney General Martha Coakley determined the petition it submitted was unconstitutional.

“I know that the Select Board has been reluctant previously to get involved in this issue and now there is no reason to be reluctant,” he said. “I think it’s important for this Select Board [and] I think it’s important for other Select Boards to take a leadership role in it and that’s something I intend to do.”

Grant stressed that because negotiations with MGM are complete there was “no reason to be afraid of them anymore” and taking an active stance against the gaming industry could no longer affect the town’s status as a surrounding community.

“I think it’s going to be important as the fall elections come up to hold our elected representatives accountable to take a position on this,” he said. “We can’t just take no position, take no stance. I feel that’s unacceptable.”

The board also decided to oppose a potential change to the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority’s (PVTA) G5 route, which services Longmeadow at a public hearing conducted at the meeting.

Selectman Paul Santaniello made a motion to continue bus service as is, with the addition of signage at the PVTA’s discretion, with the intention of gathering information for a better understanding of the amount of ridership.

At a previous meeting, Mary MacInnes, PVTA administrator, explained their route study committee had made a recommendation to eliminate the route, based on ridership data, which was agreed upon unanimously.

The G5 route begins at the Springfield Bus Terminal, enters Longmeadow via Dickenson Street to Jewish Geriatric Services (JGS), continues on Converse Street, and then proceeds down Route 5 to the Enfield, Conn. border.

MacInnes stressed any route change would not impact service to JGS, “Dial-a-Ride” or Americans with Disabilities Act service.

The PVTA advisory board will make a determination on what to do with the route. Selectman Mark Gold is the town’s representative on that board.

Santaniello pointed out that the town pays an assessment to the PVTA for the service and the numbers presented by MacInnes showed that the bus was not regularly used.

“What we have to determine is whether the assessment to the town is worth it,” he said. “If it’s not effectively utilized, the assessment is probably more costly than what the service is providing.”

He added that at this point, it was difficult to understand exactly what kind of impact a change would have.

Gold pointed out the assessment is based on mileage, not ridership, and the assessment would most likely go down if the route were to be cut short, however, he said it was possible it would not be a dramatic a reduction.

Selectman Richard Foster said he agreed with Santaniello that it would be difficult to make a determination on what to do with the route without better numbers.

“It’s hard to believe there is that few people using that bus,” he said.

Grant said he saw value in the town having a way to connect with the bus system in Connecticut and pointed out that would be lost with an elimination of the route.

“One of the things it allows is it allows people to connect to a whole route of buses that goes down into Hartford or even to the airport,” he said. “I think one of the sad things about this area is there is a poor public transportation system to the airport.”

Bay Path College Vice President of Finance Michael Giampietro spoke against the change at the hearing.

“We have about 200 students from the Springfield/Holyoke/Chicopee area, some of which commute and some of which take public transportation,” he said. “They make use of the PVTA, which stops right in front of our campus, so I would advocate to continue the route.”

Select Board Chair Marie Angelides asked if the school had a preference as to whether or not the route extended to the Connecticut border, but he said the primary concern for the college would be access for students from the Greater Springfield area.

Santaniello questioned Giampietro further on his statements regarding the number of PVTA riders that attend the school, stating that a map presented to the board by the PVTA illustrated a scant amount of ridership. He said he did not know where the PVTA got their data and suggested that the college should present some statistics to illustrate the need.

“Even if it was a fraction of [the aforementioned 200 students from the Greater Springfield area], it’s still much more than what they’re showing,” he said.