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NYS Exposed: Town faces higher taxes, no carnival. Hopes for new law to restore raffle

June 12, 2017 11:52 PM

With its taxes up sharply and its annual carnival off for a second consecutive year, residents of the Genesee County town of Stafford hoped for state relief from an effective ban on the town’s formerly lucrative longtime antique car auction.

“It’s definitely a loss,” lamented Michael Bryan, owner of Shell’s Post store and grill. As a boy, Bryan remembered bicycling to the annual carnival. As a business owner, he said he enjoyed his busiest days of the year during the festival. "A big part of the year,” he recalled. “Everybody would come in. Had a lot of fun. Good for the kids. It's a shame it's gone.”

The carnival would have come this weekend, Father’s Day weekend, but was cancelled early in 2016, along with the Stafford fire department’s annual antique corvette raffle. The raffle was a fundraising staple for the town since the end of World War II, raising money for the fire department, its firehouse, its equipment, the annual carnival and local athletic and recreational facilities.

It came to an abrupt end when the New York State Gaming commission declared it in violation of state gambling laws because it sold tickets online, sold outside of the immediate area and took payments by credit card.

“Actually, I think the New York State Gaming Commission is more negligent then we are for not keeping up with modernization,” exclaimed fire department trustee Stanley Gere.  “And now we are really hurting.”

The change brought an immediate change for the town of Stafford’s finances. To make up for the revenue lost by the cancellation of the raffle, the town’s fire department tax, $85,498 in 2016, jumped to $280,000 in 2017.

“Taxes went up. A lot of people weren't too happy about it,” said Bryan.

“That's over a 300% increase” exclaimed 139th district Assemblyman Stephen Hawley, “because this archaic law, this archaic constitutional issue, wasn't changed last year. And we're hoping it's going to be this year.”

Hawley pushed a change to state gaming laws to allow charitable and non-profit raffles like Stafford’s to proceed but, after garnering overwhelming support in both the Assembly and Senate, the bill was vetoed by Governor Andrew Cuomo who declared it violated provisions in the state Constitution.

“The law needs to go away totally,” said Stafford town supervisor Robert Clement. “It was kind of disheartening to see this law. I don't know how it got on the books. I don't know who benefited from it. It’s affected not just the Stafford fire department but a lot of other people.”

“At certain junctures you wonder whether one hand knows with the other is doing,” said Hawley.

Hawley is again advocating for a change in the law via Assembly Bill 06095/Senate Bill 04329, the "Charitable Gaming Act of 2017.” He declared the measure legalizes raffles, and the use of credit cards but also gets around other legal challenges by defining the location of a raffle ticket sale as being the location of the seller, in this case the Stafford Fire Department, thereby addressing regulations that would otherwise make it impossible for Stafford’s fire department to sell outside Genesee and nearby counties.

“The legislation would fix it all,” he said. “It would allow for sales of raffle tickets on the Internet. It would allow for sales of tickets, raffle tickets, through printed media. And it would be a total fix and we could get back to helping ourselves."

Governor Cuomo’s office did not respond to News10NBC inquiries on whether he would support the bill or sign it if it reached his desk.

With the bill before the legislature’s Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committees, Hawley admitted time had become short in the 2017 legislative session. “We're going to give it our all," he said.

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Charles Molineaux

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