Budget message: ‘Things aren’t like they used to be’
Discussions regarding the final 2021 Harrison County budget are underway and, for the first time, the council is experiencing gaps without riverboat revenue.
For years, officials from every party said the county had to prepare for if the Elizabeth-based casino left the community.
While Caesars Southern Indiana is still here, the COVID-19 pandemic that hit in March, forced it, as well as all other Indiana-based casinos and many other businesses, to temporarily close. Gov. Eric Holcomb, through executive order, kept casinos closed for approximately three months.
While the site is re-opened, it continues to require visitors to follow social distancing, occupancy is still reduced and all guests and employees have their temperatures checked before entering, according to the company’s website.
It is part of the reason the Harrison County Council is using its workshops to plan the county’s 2021 budget as though revenues will be low in 2021.
“Estimate revenue low and expenses high and then you’ll be wrong in a good way,” said Harrison County Auditor Chad Shireman as he began the council’s first workshop on July 31.
To date, the council has had four budget workshops, with two taking place last week. Another workshop was scheduled for last night (Tuesday) and another is set for today.
As the discussions started, the council said it plans to cut 10% of the funds the county gives to all non-profit agencies in the county, based on what the agency received in 2020.
“If we cut something, it sends the message that things aren’t like they used to be,” said council president Donnie Hussung. “You need to think about not relying on this money year after year.”
Councilman Gary Byrne agreed, adding the casino’s positive fiscal impact on the county is still uncertain.
“You’re still going to have other issues that you’re going to be concerned about,” Byrne said. “When they start doing the (Sherman Minton) bridge, that’s going to start taking a hit over there.”
Byrne said Indiana also doesn’t know if Kentucky will start expanding gaming, which could also take a financial toll on gaming revenue for Harrison County.
“We’ve never known in the 20 years,” said councilor Holli Castetter.
The cuts the council is considering also applies to the funding the county sends to schools in Harrison County, which was budgeted for $2 million in 2020. However, the county’s $3 million to property tax relief has not been impacted in initial council talks.
“I say we use it as a guide,” said councilor Brad Wiseman.
The following is a list of other items from initial budget talks, which could still change by the time the final 2021 budget is approved:
• The council is working as though county employees will receive a 1.5% pay raise;
• The council wants to hear from the Palmyra Volunteer Fire Dept., which is scheduled to receive $500,000 as part of the fireman’s agreement to build a new fire station in 2021; and
• The council has zeroed out the highway department’s Community Crossings line, which would be used to secure state funds to fix roads. The council wants to know which roads would be scheduled for repaving in 2021.
The council is still not sure what kind of revenue and expenses it will see before the end of 2020. Harrison County Hospital still has to bring its 2019 shortfall to the council. An old agreement between the hospital and county states the hospital will provide EMS services to the county if it covers any financial shortfalls for operating the service.
The council has also asked the Harrison County Agricultural Society to look into receiving compensation from the state for expenses it had for hosting COVID-19 testing at the Harrison County Fairgrounds in Corydon.
According to the Indiana Dept. of Local Government Finance, Nov. 2 is the adoption deadline for 2021 budgets, tax rates and tax levies.
Several other governing bodies in the county have already submitted their 2021 budgets with public hearings and proposed adoption dates taking place in September. More information can be found at budgetnotices.in.gov.