Briefcase Departments

Briefcase

Palmer Casino Falls in Close, Stunning Vote
PALMER — In a stunning defeat for Mohegan Sun, Palmer residents narrowly voted down a proposal to build a resort casino on property alongside the Mass Pike. Mohegan Sun has called for a recount after the proposal failed by 93 votes, 2,657 to 2,564. In an enthusiastic turnout, 62% of Palmer’s 8,412 registered voters cast ballots on Nov. 5. Mohegan Sun, which has maintained a storefront office and a high-profile presence in town for four years, is basing its recount demand on a voting machine in Precinct 2 that malfunctioned during the afternoon.
The company wanted to build a nearly $1 billion resort casino on 152 acres owned by Northeast Realty off turnpike exit 8. The host community agreement with the town, negotiated by Town Manager Charles Blanchard, pledged $20 million in revenue in the first year, and guaranteed payments of $15.2 million each year thereafter. The defeat — coupled with West Springfield voters recently rejecting a proposal by Hard Rock International to build a casino on Eastern States Exposition property — leaves Western Mass. with only one casino proposal that has been approved by residents. In July, by a 58-42 margin, Springfield voters said yes to that city’s host-community agreement with MGM Resorts International to develop a casino in the city’s South End. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission will award one casino license in Western Mass. next spring, though it is unclear whether Springfield is a lock for that license. Meanwhile, in separate nonb-binding resolutions, voters in West Springfield and Longmeadow overwhelmingly opposed a Springfield-based casino. In other Election Day results, state Rep. Donald Humason defeated Holyoke City Councilor David Bartley to represent the 2nd Hampden-Hampshire District seat in the state Senate. Meanwhile, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse defeated challenger Jeffrey Stanek, while Daniel Knapik narrowly kept his mayoral post in Westfield, beating back a challenge from Michael Roeder. However, Chicopee Mayor Michael Bissonnette fell to challenger and former mayor Richard Kos, and Ed Sullivan defeated incumbent West Springfield Mayor Greg Neffinger. Karen Cadieux won the open mayor’s seat in Easthampton.

Hampden Bank Tackles Proxy Fight
SPRINGFIELD — Last week, at its annual meeting of stockholders, Hampden Bank beat back a proxy fight from shareholders based in Texas who wanted seats on the board of directors, as Thomas Burton, Arlene Putnam, Linda Silva Thompson, and Richard Suski were elected directors for three-year terms expiring in 2016. Texas-based Clover Partners, headed by Johnny Guerry — which owns about $7.8 million in Hampden Bancorp Inc. stock, or 459,660 shares, accounting for about 8.1% of the company — had demanded a presence on the board and has been pushing Hampden Bank to explore a sale or merger with another bank to increase earnings. “We sincerely appreciate the support of our stockholders during the recent contested election,” said Glenn Welch, the bank’s president and CEO. “We look forward to returning our full attention to growing our business and increasing stockholder value.” Stockholders voted down a non-binding shareholder proposal, supported by Clover Partners, requesting that the board of directors explore avenues to enhance shareholder value through avenues such as a sale or merger. Stockholders also ratified Wolf & Company, P.C. to serve as the company’s independent registered public accounting firm for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2014, and also approved an advisory proposal on executive compensation, which is referred to as the ‘say-on-pay’ vote. Welch countered Guerry’s concerns about profitability by noting that net income rose $1.2 million, or 22 cents a share, for the first quarter of fiscal 2014, the largest increase in net income since the bank went public six years ago and a 57% increase from the year before. At the same time, the bank’s loan portfolio stood at $482.1 million at the end of the first quarter of fiscal 2014, up 6.8% compared with the same quarter in 2012. The bank’s stock price has outperformed both the NASDAQ Bank Index and the SML U.S. Bank Index over the past five years. Welch also said that a recent restructuring, which eliminated some jobs, will save the bank $1 million a year.

Effort Aims to Modernize, Preserve Public Housing
BOSTON — In a continuation of Gov. Deval Patrick’s efforts to preserve the Commonwealth’s public-housing portfolio and increase the number of affordable public-housing units available, the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has announced a new initiative, the High Leverage Asset Preservation Program (HILAPP), aimed at supporting the comprehensive modernization and preservation of the state’s public housing stock. The program will support these efforts by providing grants to local housing authorities that are able to secure matching funds from local and non-DHCD sources. “Affordable public housing is in high demand across the state,” said Housing and Community Development Undersecretary Aaron Gornstein. “These funds will not only ensure that current residents live in healthy and safe environments, but that the developments are upgraded so they will last for years to come.” The DHCD also awarded nine housing authorities across the Commonwealth — Amherst, Braintree, Chicopee, Franklin County, Lexington, Malden, Middleborough, Provincetown, and Sandwich — more than $500,000 to begin the design phases of their projects. By the conclusion of this first competitive cycle, it will invest up to $5 million in capital dollars to support these local housing authorities. Between fiscal years 2014 and 2018, the DHCD intends to distribute $75 million for HILAPP projects, which will in turn leverage millions of dollars from outside sources. The DHCD will repeat the competitive award process annually, funding permitting, in order to build and maintain a consistent pipeline of HILAPP projects. Other Patrick administration reforms have included requiring local housing authorities to provide the DHCD with the salaries of their five highest-paid management staff and setting a maximum salary for local housing authority executive directors, and requiring greater reporting of financial information.

Government Shutdown Slows Business Confidence
BOSTON — The Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index lost 4.8 points in October to 46.7 as Massachusetts employers reacted to deadlock in Washington and the resulting federal government shutdown. “The great majority of survey responses came in during the shutdown, and as a debt ceiling crisis loomed,” said Raymond Torto, chairman at CB Richard Ellis Group Inc. and chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA). “While the threat of a shutdown had little apparent effect on the September results, the reality in October had a big impact.” Torto pointed to responses to a special question on the business-confidence survey asking employers how the fiscal crisis would affect business conditions. “While only 13% had seen, or expected, direct impact on their operations, another 64% believed there were negative effects on overall business confidence and the  economy,” he noted. “On the other side of the ledger, 13% responded that they had not seen and did not expect negative effects, and 10% replied that ‘budget cuts and hard-line positions are ultimately positive.’ The employer community rejects the way business is being conducted in Washington, and this was consistent across industries and the range of company sizes.” The AIM index has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009.

Massachusetts, U.S. Show Economic Growth
BOSTON — The state and national economies grew faster than expected over the summer, due to an improving housing market and wage and salary growth, according to a report by the University of Massachusetts and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. The state economy grew at a 3.5% annual rate from July through September, according to the report. The national economy expanded at 2.8% rate during the same period, the U.S. Commerce Department reported. However, eonomists expect economic growth to slow next quarter as a result of the 16-day partial shutdown of the federal government last month. Employment and unemployment are among several indicators the local economists use to estimate the state’s quarterly economic growth. Other factors include state sales tax collections, a gauge of consumer spending; payroll withholding taxes, a measure of wage and income growth; consumer confidence; and the stock performance of Massachusetts companies. “The improvement in the third quarter is due to slow-but-better job growth, rising wage and salary incomes, and a higher rate of spending on items subject to sales taxes,” the report notes. “A recovering housing market and consumer and business spending are driving up economic growth.” Those improvements helped offset the economic drag from automatic budget cuts known as sequestration and higher federal payroll taxes that went into effect earlier this year. The report, published in the UMass economics journal MassBenchmarks, also revised the state’s rate of economic growth between April and June, to a 1.7% annual rate, up from previous estimate of less than 1%.

Patrick Administration Touts Conservation Efforts
WEST STOCKBRIDGE — The Mass. Department of Fish and Game (DFG) and its Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) recently joined state officials and conservationists at the Maple Hill Wildlife Management Area to celebrate the protection of over 200,000 acres of Massachusetts land after the agency acquired 3,525 acres of conservation land during fiscal year 2013. The agency now manages 200,442 acres statewide. “Gov. Patrick’s historic commitment to open-space protection has resulted in approximately 40,000 of these acres conserved since 2007,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Rick Sullivan. “I thank DFG and the many conservation organizations and individuals who contributed to this achievement.” Added DFG Commissioner Mary Griffin, “land conservation depends on partnerships with conservation organizations, land trusts, sportsmen, and conservation-minded landowners, and financial support from these groups and the state and federal government. We are grateful to 75 partners that have worked with us during the Patrick administration, and appreciate the support of all people in Massachusetts who contributed to the milestone achievement of 200,000 acres protected.” The DFG and MassWildlife jointly administer the agency’s land-protection program. Under Patrick’s tenure, the agency has invested more than $64 million for land acquisition and conserved almost 40,000 acres. The DFG has acquired conservation properties throughout the state in reaching the 200,000-acre milestone. Highlights from recent years include the Paul C. Jones Working Forest, 3,486 acres in Leverett and Shutesbury; the Flagg Mountain Wildlife Management Area, 160 acres in Conway; the West Brookfield Wildlife Management Area, 320 acres in West Brookfield; the Squannacook River Wildlife Management Area, 39 acres in Townsend; and the Halfway Pond Wildlife Management Area, 152 acres in Plymouth.

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