BERLIN — The Mayor and Council began drafting a “wish list” Monday for all the projects they hope slot revenue will be able to finance in the future.
“There’s quite a bit of latitude with what can be done with video lottery money,” said Mayor Gee Williams.
Topping the list is the often discussed new police station on the east side of Route 113. Property for the station was purchased last summer. The six-and-a-half-acre parcel is located at the corner of Bay Street and Route 113.
At Monday’s meeting, Williams proposed that the town consider setting aside the minimum amount of revenue it expects to receive in local impact grants from the slots at Ocean Downs every year, which amounts to $168,000. That money would go toward paying off the property on Bay Street and funding the police station.
“It takes that money off the table,” said Williams.
Any additional revenue beyond the expected minimum could then go toward other projects. Williams suggested a 50- 50 split of the excess funds, half would go to public safety and the other half to economic development. He added that this would be a safe bet, since Berlin would not be planning for projects until it knew how much slot revenue it would have to work with.
“I don’t like the idea of committing money before we have it in hand,” he said.
Council members were then asked to weigh in on the “wish list” and to add the projects they felt were most important. There was a general consensus on matters like sidewalks and other “infrastructure.”
A Berlin Community Center was suggested around the same time as a new police station. In fact, the town’s Bay Street property has been considered to host both buildings.
“We want to keep the community center on the backburner,” said Councilman Elroy Brittingham.
Brittingham reminded the council that Berlin was one of the few towns without a proper center.
Williams agreed that a new community center would be a boon to the area but pointed out that it would likely be easier for the town to get the police station up first.
While the exact funding Berlin will receive from Ocean Downs every year is impossible to predict, officials seemed pleased with what the estimates are looking like so far. Even better news for the town is that the casino is not yet operating at full capacity and will likely see a significant increase in visitors during the summer.
That money will help not only Berlin, but also neighboring municipalities and Worcester County itself, all of which will get a percentage of the revenue brought in by slots. To keep everything organized, Williams was emphatic that no slot money would creep into the other budgets, as all revenue will be segregated in its own account.
“No situation is exactly like this one,” said Williams, remarking that having a casino in a relatively rural area that also hosted the state’s most popular summer resort was a unique situation. However, he and the rest of the council were optimistic about the positive impact Ocean Downs could have on the community.
He hoped that the local impact grants would show both immediate results and allow Berlin to “invest in things we thought we’d never have.”