Seeking a voice at the tracks - State Legislature passes Belmont advisory board

Ronny Reyes

June 27, 2019

Originally published in Long Island Herald on June 27, 2019.

State Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages and State Sen. Anna Kaplan led the effort to pass legislation on June 18 to impanel a Belmont Community Advisory Board. Solages, who re-introduced the decade-old bill in January, said it would establish a body to give local residents a voice at Belmont Park.

If Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs the bill into law, the Franchise Oversight Board will have until 30 days after the appointment of its members to establish all three local advisory boards at New York Racing Association tracks.

“This ensures parity between all of the three” NYRA tracks, Solages said. “Both Saratoga and the Aqueduct have active community panels, and I look forward to seeing the same thing in our community.”

The advisory board is to comprise 15 members. The Nassau County executive can name five, four of whom must be from Elmont. The Town of Hempstead supervisor can appoint two other Elmont residents. NYRA can appoint three members; the Village of Floral Park and Queens Community Board 13, two; and the Village of South Floral Park, one.

As with the Saratoga and Aqueduct boards, the Belmont board could present public endorsements or rejections of the latest developments at the racetrack, and would have to meet at least twice a year to discuss Belmont Park happenings and provide input from the local community to the state’s Franchise Oversight Board, which oversees NYRA.

In 2008, as a part of a reorganization of thoroughbred horseracing and parimutuel betting in New York, the state’s Franchise Oversight Board formed local advisory committees to oversee operations at Aqueduct and Saratoga, but not at Belmont. Although then State Sen. Craig Johnson pushed for legislation to create the board in 2009, the bill never passed.

The current bill also contrasts with one proposed by Kaplan’s predecessor, Elaine Phillips, last year. That bill called for members to be chosen by the State Senate president, Assembly speaker and Franchise Oversight Board. It also stated that no one could designate more than two individuals from any one community, which drew criticism from Elmont residents. Kaplan and Solages said that throughout their time in office this year, one of local residents’ biggest concerns has been the future of Belmont Park as both NYRA and New York Arena Partners seek to develop the area in 2019.

“I’ve spent a lot of time meeting with constituents to hear about their priorities, and the creation of a community advisory board for Belmont Park is a top priority for my residents in Elmont, Floral Park and South Floral Park,” Kaplan said.

Tammie Williams, of the Belmont Park Community Coalition, hopes that the advisory board’s input would be taken seriously. She also warned against the appointment of anyone who might have a conflict of interest and is employed by NYRA, the state’s Franchise Oversight Board, or sits on the current Belmont Community Advisory Committee, which is keeping an eye on the Belmont Arena project.

“Anyone with appointment power has to be engaged with the community and appoint people who are reflective of the entire community,” Williams said. “Justice will be whether or not the State of New York actually listens to the community and acts on it. It’s not just enough to pretend for appearance’s sake.”