PLAINVILLE - Town officials have met with Plainridge Racecourse representatives four times to talk about allowing slot machines at the track, but insist they still intend to hire a consultant to help them negotiate a host agreement.
Selectmen had said at the start of the process of Plainridge applying for a slot machine license that the board lacked the expertise in gambling to negotiate a deal with the Route 1 track on their own.
They said they would hire a consultant, which will be paid for by the track, to help them through the steps required for reaching an agreement on how much the track would pay the town and other items to mitigate the impact of expanded gambling at the site.
The news that Selectman Rob Rose and Town Administrator Joseph Fernandes have met with track President Gary Piontkowski four times before hiring a consultant angered anti-gambling activist Mary-Ann Greanier.
"More than once we were told that the board of selectmen would never enter into negotiations without a consultant in place," she said in a letter to Fernandes.
"But somehow, at Mr. Piontkowski's behest, we have, in fact done just that."
Fernandes expressed frustration that some slot machine critics seem intent on discrediting town officials without knowing the facts.
He and Rose insisted a consultant will be hired soon.
A request for proposals seeking consultants to apply for the position should be done next month, Fernandes said.
The request, or RFP, has been delayed because selectmen thought the state Gaming Commission was going to issue a draft proposal for all towns to copy, he said.
He said the four meetings with Plainridge were preliminary, and no offers were made.
"We will not respond to them until we have a consultant on board," he said.
The first two meetings involved talking about setting a process for future talks, he said.
The third meeting involved Piontkowski outlining his estimates of how much revenue 1,250 slot machines could generate. The last meeting took place on Tuesday and centered on the planning board's role in considering altering its special permit rules to allow for slot machines, he said.
Fernandes said a consultant will be hired before any negotiations on the substance of a host community agreement begin.
Rose said the four meetings have been "nothing substantial ...We're trying to get the ball rolling."
He said the meetings have begun because selectmen are concerned that the gaming commission might issue a deadline for reaching an agreement and applying for a license that would catch the town unprepared.