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Harrison mulls cut in revenue sharing with Crawford County

Crawford County officials Monday night pitched their argument in favor of retaining the eight-percent share of riverboat revenue it receives from Harrison County, which averages about $1.5 million a year.
‘It’s been very beneficial,’ Crawford County Council attorney Marcus Burgher IV told the Harrison County Council during its planning session. ‘Crawford County has come to rely on that money.’
The issue of revenue sharing in general was up for discussion, said council chair Gary Davis, because interlocal agreements allowing Harrison County to share its riverboat revenue have expired. Future payments would be held up without new contracts.
Prior to receiving a gaming license to allow Caesars Indiana to do business on Harrison County’s Ohio River shore, officials told the Indiana Gaming Commission it would share 18 percent of its future gaming revenue with its neighbors. And since Caesars opened in late 1998, Harrison County has given away $29.2 million, $13 million of that to Crawford County.
Harrison County receives about $23.4 million a year in gaming revenue from Caesars (Caesars also pays real and personal property taxes to Harrison County which aren’t shared. This year, those taxes totaled more than $2 million.)
Other neighbors receiving revenue sharing are Washington County, $3.2 million, and Floyd County, $8.1 million (includes payments to New Albany and Georgetown).
Harrison County’s 10 incorporated towns share three percent based on population plus two percent of infrastructure funds.
Crawford County was the only outside interest represented at Monday night’s meeting. Officials there had heard Harrison County might cut two percent of the eight percent Crawford receives, because Orange County is expected to share up to $700,000 a year with Crawford, said Councilman Alvin Brown, who said he had heard that sum from a reliable source.
A resolution formalizing a development agreement between the developer, Orange County and/or French Lick was not available yesterday.
On Brown’s motion, the council tabled action until its Dec. 11, 7 p.m. meeting to gather more information concerning Orange County’s plan to share its revenue from the new riverboat, which recently opened in French Lick.
‘I don’t want to cut Crawford County until this casino kicks in,’ Brown said. ‘I think it should be distributed to the majority of the people.’
Brown suggested that revenue cuts to Crawford should go to Floyd and Washington counties, because they have seen an increase in traffic on U.S. 150 from boat traffic to French Lick and must provide heavier patrols.
‘So we’re supposed to pay for Washington County’s problems with Orange County?’ Councilman Chris Timberlake asked Brown, rhetorically.
Timberlake suggested that the revenue sharing contracts be negotiated earlier each year.
‘Why do the agreements lapse in November? The timing is horrendous,’ Timberlake said. ‘It needs to be done before budgets are set, not after.’
Burgher said the agreements lapse in November because that’s when revenue sharing began under the first five-year licensing agreement.
The contracts are now negotiated annually, Davis said.
Burgher said Crawford County has already been hurt by revenue cuts. The county is currently trying to regain revenue from Switzerland County, which cut out revenue sharing when taxes went up due to dockside gambling.
Commissioner James Goldman, who was in the audience, stressed to the council that any change in the distribution would not be viewed favorably in Indianapolis.
‘I think it would be horrendous to back away from Crawford County,’ he said. ‘It would be heard loud and clear in the Statehouse.
‘My recommendation is we stay the course.’
Davis said he doesn’t believe it matters, at least not with the Senate, how Harrison County distributes its money.
That holds true, Davis said, despite the fact that Harrison County has continued to share 18 percent of its revenue, even after the state capped the revenue at $23.5 million that Harrison County could receive.
Timberlake said the council should remember how Harrison County felt when it appeared the state might take away more riverboat revenue.
Councilman Carl (Buck) Mathes said he has favored reducing the amount to Crawford County for the last two years. ‘I want to delegate it to the incorporated towns’ in Harrison County, Mathes said.
Others from Crawford County who spoke to the council were John Colin attorney for the commissioners; Larry Bye, commission chair; Jerry Brewer, council chair; and Crawford County Community School Corp. Supt. Dr. Mark Eastridge.
All thanked Harrison County for its past generosity and asked for at least a one-year reprieve to prepare for any cutback.
Crawford County is among the state’s poorest, and although residents passed the referendum to allow gaming, a license has not been granted by the state.
Burgher said the funds are earmarked for the following purposes in Crawford: 50 percent to the highway department, 30 percent for school debt, 12 percent to the four incorporated towns, four percent to fire departments, two percent for the county ambulance, one percent for the library and one percent for the highway department to use for capital projects.
Eastridge said the school administration in Crawford County is using its share of riverboat revenue to invest in the future through full-day kindergarten for students. At the same time, funds are helping to make vital repairs to the high school. ‘My point is,’ he said, ‘we have needs, and the money you have given us has helped.’