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New Middletown spending questioned

New Middletown resident Randy Hunter voiced his displeasure Monday night, July 11, at the Harrison County Council meeting about the way the New Middletown Town Council has spent its allotment of riverboat gaming funds.
‘All of the money has been wasted on frivolous stuff in New Middletown,’ Hunter said. ‘Now, they want to borrow money from everyone for a new town hall. The town hall is fine as it is … Boys, I tell you, the way the economy is now, we don’t need this.’
Hunter said he wanted the council to put more restrictions on how the gaming money is spent.
Hunter said the money received is moved into the general fund and used for anything and everything.
Harrison County Auditor Karen Engleman said the town is small enough that it can legally only have one account.
‘We’re sick and tired of being ripped off … ‘ Hunter said. ‘Everything’s been done backwards instead of forwards.’
He said the case has been brought before the Harrison County Circuit Court and the Harrison County Prosecutor’s Office.
Council Chairman Gary Davis said the only action the board can take is reviewing the town’s annual report of its gaming fund expenditures.
‘We will follow up with that,’ he said.
New Middletown does not have a tax rate enforced on its residents, Engleman said, which could be an option in the future to help pay for town needs.
The county council has deliberated during its last couple of meetings about Horseshoe Southern Indiana riverboat gaming funds sharing throughout the county’s 10 incorporated towns and continued the discussion last week.
Each year, the county receives a capped amount of revenue of just more than $23.2 million. Three percent of that, about $700,000, is dispersed to the towns.
From 2000 to 2005, the county split the money equally among the towns, but, in 2005, it decided to factor in town population as the means for splitting the funds.
The proposal it finally decided upon ‘ and the one that’s been used each year since 2005 (the county has met its $23.2 million cap each year) ‘ was that of former councilwoman Rhonda Rhoads. The four largest towns receive 70 percent of the funds split by population. As for the smaller towns, Elizabeth and Crandall receive 7 percent; New Middletown and Mauckport, 5 percent; and Laconia and New Amsterdam, 3 percent.
Davis said with the new 2010 Census figures, the method for sharing should be revisited.
Councilman Jim Heitkemper proposed a formula that would prohibit any town from being cut 10 percent of what they received last year.
Davis, however, asked Heitkemper what the basis for that is, since, according to the latest audit of each town, most have a significant amount of funding saved up.
‘I think this is an indication they’re not using this money up each year,’ Davis said.
The most recent figures Davis could find were from anywhere between the end of 2008 and 2010 for each town. Totals included Corydon, $1.6 million; Crandall, $265,516; Elizabeth, $252,611; Laconia, $75,808; Lanesville, $150,588; Mauckport, $230,815; Milltown, $208,053; New Amsterdam, $241,570; New Middletown, $100,290; and Palmyra, $270,103.
He said the most up-to-date figures will be available for the board at its next meeting.
‘I’m beginning to wonder if we’re trying to fix something that’s not broken,’ Councilman Chris Timberlake said.
Elizabeth Town Manager Hugh Burns said he’s confused as to why it’s OK for Corydon to sit on a large sum of riverboat gaming funds but not small towns, such as Elizabeth.
‘I’m just as important as Corydon,’ he said.
Davis said Corydon Town Council President Fred Cammack informed him that the money is being saved for improvements at the wastewater treatment plant.
Burns said he wanted the council to meet with him to get an understanding of just how little money the town receives outside of riverboat funding.
Davis ended the discussion, since it will be brought up again at the council’s next meeting, July 25, at 7 p.m. at the Government Center in Corydon.
‘It’s not productive to continue this discussion,’ he said.