SALAMANCA - Last month's settlement of a dispute between the Seneca Nation of Indians and New York state will result in an influx of $34.5 million in back payments for the city of Salamanca.
On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo hosted a press conference at Salamanca High School to personally present a check reflecting the lump sum to the city's Mayor Carmen Vecchiarella. The check was made payable to the city of Salamanca, and the memo portion read, "Forward for Salamanca."
"It doesn't get any better than this," said Cuomo. "(We're) ending disagreements and negativity, and people are working together to move the state forward. This was a dispute that went on for four years, and predated me as governor of the state. But it was emblematic, in a lot of ways, of a state government that just didn't work. So, we've now resolved the agreement-which means hundreds of millions of dollars for the state, and tens of millions of dollars for cities that desperately needed it. So, it's a good day."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, pictured at right, presents a check in the amount of $34,500,000 to city of Salamanca Mayor Carmen Vecchiarella, pictured at left.
P-J photo by Gavin Paterniti
The conference was attended by several students and residents of Salamanca, as well as local, regional and state dignitaries. Among the dignitaries present were state Sen. Cathy Young, R-C-I-Olean, and state Assemblymen Joseph Giglio, R-C-I-Gowanda and Andrew Goodell, R-C-I-Chautauqua County.
"This occasion marks a significant turning point in the relationship between the state and the Nation, ensuring that everyone is treated fairly," Young said. "I commend the governor, Seneca Nation President Barry Snyder and the Tribal Council for forging this historic partnership."
Upon receipt of the check, Vecchiarella said the dispute between the Seneca Nation and the state was devastating to the city of Salamanca-forcing cuts in vital services such as education, youth programs and dozens of jobs. Prior to the dispute, Salamanca had accounted for revenue from the Seneca-Allegany Casino in its budget-revenue which has been sorely missed for the duration of the dispute.
Due to the hardships faced over the last four years, Vecchiarella did not fail to emphasize the importance of this funding.
"This deal is truly a lifesaver for our city," he said. "The Seneca agreement is the single best piece of news our city has received in years. $35 million dollars is a huge sum of money for our city. It means our city can regain solid financial footing, it will allow us to help give our children a decent quality education, it will help us rebuild our crumbling roads and make long overdue repairs to our infrastructure."
Vecchiarella also expressed his gratitude to Cuomo and Snyder, in their commitment toward reaching an agreement.
"To make this agreement happen, it took a governor who truly cares about our region and about Salamanca," Vecchiarella said. "On behalf of all our residents, we thank the governor and president Snyder for the work they have done here that has truly helped save our city."
"We can move forward," added Young. "And the community is ecstatic that they will receive the funding that they need so much."
The dispute between the Seneca Nation and the state can be traced back to 2009. The Senecas claimed the state had violated a 2002 gaming compact-in which the Seneca Nation was promised an exclusive gaming zone in Western New York-by allowing gaming machines at three racetracks within the exclusivity zone. The Seneca Nation then stopped making the required revenue payments, instead putting the money into escrow.
By the time the dispute was settled, the amount owed by the Seneca Nation to the state was upward of $500 million. Snyder was also in attendance at the conference. The Nation gave the bulk of this money back by presenting Cuomo with a check in the amount of $349,650,000.
"On behalf of the Seneca Nation, we appreciate the governor's continued commitment to the economic revitalization of Western New York, and recognizing the Seneca Nation's gaming enterprises as an important component to the continuation of our region's growth and transformation," Snyder said.
In addition to Salamanca's $34 million, the Seneca Nation also paid $89 million to the city of Niagara Falls and $15 million to Buffalo.