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Council ponders how to cut the revenue pie

Harrison County’s money managers Monday night grappled with proposed changes in riverboat revenue sharing for more than an hour, but in the end the seven-member county council changed nothing.
Several proposals were made to redistribute the total revenue paid to Harrison County’s 10 incorporated towns, but that issue wound up on the table to give council members a couple of weeks to calculate the percentages and study the issue.
A three-member subcommittee had studied revenue sharing and recommended last month that changes be made this year. The annual 18-percent in revenue sharing would not have changed, but how the money is divided between the recipients would. Currently, Crawford County receives eight percent and Floyd and Washington counties each get two percent; New Albany (through which most gamblers travel to get to the boat at Bridgeport), receives three percent.
A proposal to cut New Albany’s share by half a percent and give it to Georgetown failed.
Last year, the revenue sharing amounted to $4.3 million.
Of the 18 percent, Harrison County’s 10 incorporated town’s split three percent evenly among them. The towns also receive two percent based on population in the 2000 census, and the county’s 12 townships share $110,000, also based on population outside the towns.
The committee had recommended eliminating the extra two percent for the towns and all the township revenue, because each of those entities could ask the council for funding when special needs arose.
‘In general, the committee is worried about the state legislature taking more of our riverboat revenue away, and we’re preparing for that,’ said council chair Gary Davis, explaining the proposed change.
The legislature in 2002 capped the revenue Harrison County receives from the riverboat at $23.2 million; the state gets the balance. Some council members have said they’re not sure what to expect this year with a new administration in Indianapolis ‘ Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels and Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman.
The towns and townships were well represented at Monday night’s council meeting.
Elizabeth Town Clerk Hugh Burns said, ‘I understand the endless array of requests, month after month, but when it comes to the towns … you don’t get anymore grassroots than Elizabeth or Laconia.’
He chastised the council for not consulting with the towns before proposing a change. He said that was promised when the issue last arose. But no one on the council remembers it that way.
‘We said it might be a good idea to do that,’ Davis said, in tit-for-tat fashion. ‘I don’t believe we promised to do anything.’
The council’s decision not to involve the towns in the early stage was based on the fact that it is the council’s sole responsibility, Davis said.
Nevertheless, the committee’s proposal was voted down, and counter offers followed from Davis, Councilman Carl (Buck) Mathes and Councilwoman Rhonda Rhoads (who was elected vice chair Monday night). Neither proposal fared well, but the issue will be revisited.
After one motion to table the issue failed to pass and confusion reigned, Davis, a certified public accountant, called for another motion to table after he decided Rhoads’ figures didn’t add up.
Rhoads countered: ‘I’m not an accountant; I’m a kindergarten teacher.’
Rhoads said she had based her figures on the percentage a town would get of the three-percent overall amount they received in 2003.
Others, like Councilman Alvin Brown, argued that they were too confused to make a decision and asked for the issue to be tabled. ‘I don’t want to make a decision when the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing,’ he said.
‘We need to look this over for at least two weeks,’ Brown said, so the council voted to table the issue, although not unanimously.
Mathes, Ralph Sherman and Rhoads voted against, while Brown, Kenneth Saulman and Chris Timberlake voted in favor. Davis cast the tie-breaker with those in favor.
‘I think we’re on our way to a compromise,’ Timberlake said. ‘I think that’s important.’
Then, a motion by Brown to eliminate the extra two percent the towns receive failed 4-2, with Brown and Saulman voting in favor and Timberlake, Rhoads, Sherman and Mathes against.
Then, Brown said, ‘I think the trustees used their money wisely, and it’s peanuts compared to the towns.’ His motion to continue that funding, seconded by Sherman, passed 5-1, with only Saulman opposed. (Saulman served on the committee that initially recommended the cut.)
In other matters Monday night, the council:
‘ Unanimously approved revenue sharing to all the counties and towns of $177,759;
‘ Unanimously approved $1 million in riverboat revenue to be divided among the three commissioners’ districts to be used for contractual services;
‘ Tabled a request for $500,000 in riverboat revenue for highway department equipment; the issue was postponed for two weeks so county engineer Darin Duncan can supply a list of planned purchases;
‘ Denied 4-2 a request by Doug Robson, director of Lifelong Learning, for $200,000 in riverboat revenue to use as a match for a proposed $750,000 maximum grant for Harrison County from the Indianapolis-based Lilly Founda-tion. Sherman, a director on the Lifelong Learning board, moved to reject the request. Robson was ill and could not attend the meeting to answer questions, but First District Commissioner James Goldman said the match would be used to bring in more money ‘than we put out.’
Rhoads noted that Harrison County Community Foundation (HCCF) director Steve Gilliland had said earlier that the county’s match ‘would sweeten the pot.’
She said, however, that she would rather contribute the $200,000 to the county’s endowment with the HCCF, ‘so we can continue to run this government if our money is capped again or gone.’
Timberlake and Saulman voted against the denial.
The council also unanimously appointed its members to serve on the following boards: Mathes, plan commission; Timberlake, emergency management and the Chamber of Commerce of Harrison County; Saulman, solid waste management district; Brown, River Hills Economic Development District and Gerdon Youth Center; Sherman, 4-H Council; Davis and Sherman, Harrison County Economic Development; and Rhoads, Family and Children’s Service.
The council also appointed Wanda Jenks of Palmyra to replace Joel Ponder on the Harrison County Park Board. He had resigned with a year remaining on his term. Jenks was nominated by Rhoads, who said, ‘I think it would be nice to have a woman on there.
‘She is definitely for all the parks.’