The Harrison County Board of Commissioners met with the financial planning committee of the county council last week to discuss the riverboat gaming funds ‘what if’ spending analysis.
The ‘what if’ analysis is not a set-in-stone budget, but a five-year plan for potential spending with an emphasis on large projects. It is used so the council can have a handle on upcoming spending and, hopefully, minimize surprises to the budget. It is only a tool for making decisions about spending riverboat revenue.
The group met last Wednesday afternoon to review the plan because of recent news that the county will receive less riverboat funding in light of statewide admissions tax revenue dropping about 10 percent, a hit of about $750,000.
Factoring a continued similar drop for the next five years, Councilman Phil Smith said the county should expect, or at least plan for, a shortfall of $1.2 million-plus by 2019.
‘We don’t know how that’s going to impact us the next five years … we think it’ll continue,’ Smith said. ‘As you can see, it has a large effect.’
The admissions tax is like a turnstile count of people who make their way into Indiana casinos. With the addition of casinos in neighboring states, such as Ohio, the number of people entering Indiana casinos has dropped. Horseshoe Casino opened a $400-million facility in March 2013, in downtown Cincinnati, which is within an hour drive of three Indiana casinos, including one of the state’s best-performing facilities. A racino also opened near Cincinnati and another in Dayton, Ohio, providing more competition for Indiana gambling dollars.
Illinois also has plans to add virtual gaming machines at local bars and taverns, which could negatively impact northwest Indiana casinos.
With outside pressures continuing, the trend of lost admissions revenue may continue.
‘The best we can do is try to keep on top of it,’ Smith said.
After that was discussed, Smith went through the analysis line by line and noted changes.
Funding for animal control’s Operation Dog Gone will no longer be in the budget after 2015. In 2015, $126,750 was budgeted for the program.
The Regional Sewer District budget was also zeroed-out beginning in 2016 because it should be self-sufficient by that time. Only $20,000 is budgeted for next year after the RSD received $45,000 in 2014.
Harrison County Lifelong Learning will continue its growth away from county government funding with a drop of $25,000 each year until the county provides only $75,000 in 2019. This year, the county provided $200,000.
The commissioners had one major addition to the spending analysis, suggesting another $1 million for the Harrison County Highway Dept. garage project, which already has $1.5 million earmarked for 2015 and 2016 on top of $1 million for this year.
Commissioner George Ethridge said the added $1 million is needed to install a tower to link the facility into the county’s data network.
The committee also shifted $750,000 from the lake project at South Harrison Park near Elizabeth to the park’s improvements budget.
Each year the council tries to keep additional appropriations for the entire county under $1 million.
The goal of the financial committee, Smith said, is to be able to continue services as they are for one year plus continue the major projects, if the riverboat gaming funds were to dry up.
The biggest part of that equation is the community fund at the Harrison County Community Foundation, which is nearing a principle of $80 million. The county can spend the interest of that fund each year, which it does to help supplement the budget.
In other matters, the commissioners heard from Mark Hamilton of Neace Lukens, who said he fully expects to provide the county with an insurance plan that has no increase next year, after the county saw an 11-percent increase this year.
Hamilton also said he expects, in the long run, health care costs to continue to rise and most companies will go to a plan where the employee pays more of the share in the next 10 to 15 years.
‘It’s not going to be possible to keep the plan we have now and keep the rates down,’ he said.
Ethridge said he was leaning toward offering a plan paid for by the county and giving the employees an opportunity to purchase a better plan.
The commissioners’ next regular meeting will be Monday at 8:30 a.m. at the Government Center in south Corydon. There will be a special meeting today (Wednesday) at noon to open grading bids for the highway garage property and other county business.