Casino grants spark debate

An expansion of Bucks County’s casino impact program could allow more communities to apply for a share of the slots revenues at Philadelphia Park in Bensalem.
But not everyone wants to spread the money around.

On Monday, the Bucks County Redevelopment Authority released its gaming impact grants, including a USD 350,000 grant for police and fire services in Bristol. The county gets 1 percent of slots proceeds from Philadelphia Park (about USD 5 million) and is expected to use half that money for casino impact grants.

The gaming act states that grants should go “to the municipalities which are contiguous to the municipality [Bensalem] and which are located within the county in which the licensed facility is located.”

Still, Redevelopment Authority Director Bob White believes the grant to Bristol is legal because the application was submitted by the county. “We checked with our solicitor on this and the county can apply for anyone that they want,” White said.

Under that standard, communities as far away as Buckingham could conceivably apply, White said, noting towns farther from the Bensalem casino would be less likely to win grants.

Officials in Bristol Township don’t like the new policy and they don’t want any more competition on grants.

“We have a lot of problems in Bristol Township. We’re trying to balance the budget,” said Council President Tina Davis. “We’re trying to go for all the grants we can get. I just don’t see why they should let more people apply.”

The Bristol Township Council faces a USD 1 million deficit next year.

Middletown will see its total grants drop from USD 675,000 in 2008 to USD 478,977 next year, based on Monday’s announcement. Still, Chairman of Township Supervisors Robert McMonagle said he doesn’t mind sharing.

“A program that I support,” McMonagle said of the grant to Bristol police and fire services. McMonagle welcomed any struggling Lower Bucks towns to apply for the money.

“Penndel is one of the more struggling towns … and they didn’t have any shot at this money [until now].”

“There hasn’t really been any impact to the Middletown from the casino,” he added. “So for us, this is like found money.”

Bensalem Council President Joseph Szafran was also feeling charitable Friday.

“I don’t see what the big problem is,” Szafran said. “Bristol Borough clearly needs the money as much as Bristol Township.

“I know Tina Davis and I know she has Bristol Township in her heart,” Szafran continued. “If there was any real impact on Bristol Township [from the casino] then I would say, yes, they deserve it.

“But I don’t think Bristol Township is really suffering because of the casino,” he said.

Szafran went one step further, arguing that towns like Tullytown and New Hope should apply.

“You can apply to the state and get grants but that’s tax money,” he said. “I’d encourage them to go out and get money from the casino.”

In Hulmeville, Councilman Joe McKairnes said he wasn’t worried about competition on grants. McKairnes said he believed money spent on Bristol was unlikely to cut into Hulmeville’s share.