City Council Acts On Wampanoag Casino Bid, Capital Infrastructure Program
NEW BEDFORD — With the recent news of Amazon leaving New Bedford and other bidding Massachusetts cities behind to choose Boston as the top contestant in the Bay State for its second national headquarters, the City Council shifted focus towards another opportunity for large-scale economic development in the city.
City Council passed a written motion requesting the City of New Bedford to pen a letter to the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head expressing support of the casino the tribe plans to build on mainland Southeastern Massachusetts.
The motion also requests the letter highlight the benefits of calling the Whaling City home for the casino. Councillor At-Large Ian Abreu submitted the motion along with Ward Five Councillor Scott Lima, Ward Two Councillor Maria Giesta, and Ward Six Councillor Joseph Lopes that listed space for economic development, a strong workforce, solid public infrastructure, community support, and the access to Rhode Island and Cape Cod as selling points for the city to use in a pitch to the tribe.
“New Bedford is strategically placed. We have the port, we have the airport, we have solid infrastructure, we have an amazing workforce here in our city, and we're ready to go,” Abreu said. “There are going to be other municipalities all throughout Southeastern Massachusetts trying to make the make the case as well to host a casino. New Bedford has to be at that table.”
Councillor At-Large Naomi Carney removed herself from acting on the motion. Carney is a Wampanoag herself and admitted to the council before stepping out of the room that she "has a vested interest in it and also a financial interest in it” before stating that she wouldn't vote on any of the issues regarding the casino.
“I am on the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribal Council and I'm also the Vice Chair of the gaming commission which all the letters come to. I do have a vested interest in it and also a financial interest in this so I will not vote on any of the issues when it comes onto the council floor, I will just step aside,” said Carney. “But, I'm always willing to take questions and people can come and ask me whatever they need to ask me.”
With a unanimous vote to send the letter, the motion will also be referred to the Tribal Council, Mayor's Office, and the New Bedford Economic Development Council for review.
“I've always believed that New Bedford is probably the best location for a casino just because of our location and what we have to offer,” Giesta said. “Why not New Bedford? It should be the place in Massachusetts that we open up a casino.”
The council also unanimously voted to refer a request for a loan from Mayor Jon Mitchell totaling $6,115,000 to the Committee on Finance. The loan would constitute the next round of projects for the City's Capital Investment Program (CIP), expected to run from 2018 through 2022.
The projects scheduled in the CIP are intended to continue essential renovations and repairs to city buildings, such as replacing the elevator at City Hall. The program also aims to designate local funding to supplement state aid for road and sidewalk repairs.
Councillor Carney initiated the motion for the loan request to be referred to the Committee on Finance, citing a focus on spending taxpayer money on phases of the project that she says aren't critical to the overall plan.
“I want it to go the Committee on Finance because it's broken down into a lot of different phases and I don't think all of them are critical,” Carney said. “The other thing is with the taxes going up on our taxpayers, we need to look at where we're borrowing money and where we're putting it and make sure that it gets out to the general public and not just specific things. I know it's a bond rating and it stays in the same ballpark, but it's still a loan and we're still borrowing it and we have to pay it back.”
Councillor Abreu argues that now is time to dedicate resources to capital improvements based on the City's current bond rating, and stressed the importance of capital bonds to complete the project.
“We need to add a second form of an elevator here in City Hall, and we need to obviously make investments in city infrastructure, city buildings, and in our schools to be able to grow as a community and grow our infrastructure in-house,” Abreu said. “These capital improvements bonds are very important and we have a fantastic bond rating, so now is the chance to do it when we have a bond rating that so favorable.”