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Lobbyists hired to protect riverboat funds

Riverboat casino communities in Indiana have reason to be worried about revenue from gaming funds being lost to the state government, according to some local officials.
Before the Harrison County Council approved an additional of $48,000 for Capitol Assets LLC, a lobbying firm hired the last few years by Harrison County to help protect riverboat gaming funds, council chairman Chris Timberlake addressed Rick Cockrum, a lobbyist with Capitol Assets.
‘Rick, the governor has 60 votes if he needs it. What’s your strategy?’ he asked, referring to the Republicans’ control of the House of Representatives.
‘That’s a very good question,’ Cockrum said. ‘We’ve got our work cut out for us.’
He said it’s key for the five other riverboat counties to form a coalition and for all of the counties and towns outside of the riverboat counties that receive revenue, as well as nonprofit organizations, to provide support.
‘Your county took a risk when others didn’t ‘ ‘ Cockrum said. ‘I’m not worried about having a tough fight, but I’m not making any promises.’
He said the only thing he can promise is that ‘we’ll work as hard as we can.’
Cockrum said Harrison County has been complimented at the state level for it’s open and transparent process of using riverboat gaming funds.
Capitol Assets also represents Lake County in northwest Indiana.
The additional passed unanimously.
‘Good luck,’ Timberlake said. ‘Don’t let us down.’
‘Wrestle the heck out of them,’ Councilman Jim Heitkemper added.
Even without the state legislature seeking the riverboat gaming revenue, the Indiana gaming industry has felt ‘under attack’ in recent years, Cockrum said to county officials last year.
Neighboring state Michigan already has casinos, and, last year, Ohio approved gaming facilities for four cities, including Cincinnati. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has also made it clear that one of his goals in office is to bring gaming to race tracks to protect the horse racing industry. Beshear will be up for re-election in 2012.
Last year, legislation was filed to take away the county’s money and distribute it among all 92 counties in the state. Cockrum said his firm successfully fought that. Cockrum and his team are at the Statehouse each day and report to the Harrison County Board of Commissioners on a regular basis, normally weekly.
In other business Monday night, the board approved an additional of $18,000 for cleaning equipment for maintenance superintendent David Si-mon. The vote was passed 5-1, with only Councilman Richard Gerdon voting against.
Timberlake said he thought, in the course of a $15 million budget for the government center, that $18,000 could have been set aside for this.
Commissioner James Goldman said this additional is to maintain the building, not construct it. The $15 million budget created by RQAW Corp. was strictly to construct the project.
‘We didn’t order brooms or paper for the toilets,’ Goldman said.
Gerdon then asked if there was any money leftover.
‘We’re not done,’ Goldman said of the project.
The council also approved a transfer of $15,000 for Kent Irwin of Waggoner, Irwin, Scheele and Associates Inc., who was hired in May to revamp the county’s personnel policy. He was hired for $15,000, but now the committee ‘ Councilman Gordon Pendleton, Commissioner Terry Miller, Auditor Pat Wolfe, county attorney John E. Colin and Irwin ‘ believes it also needs to enhance the job description for all county employees, which was not in Irwin’s original plans.
‘They have not been updated for a number of years,’ Pendleton said. ‘So many federal laws have changed, it’s almost unbelievable.’
Other approved additionals include more than $27,000 for a new Dodge 4-door truck for Simon; $3,300 for part-time help for animal control officer Bruce LaHue; $99,000 for dependent care health insurance; and nearly $4,000 for a laptop and camera for county planner Eric Wise.
The board will next meet Monday, Dec. 27, at 7 p.m. Timberlake said a reception will be held following the meeting in honor of outgoing councilmembers Leslie Robertson and Robert H. (Bob) Morris.