Council Members Voice Desire To Continue Sharing Riverboat Funds, But No Solution Yet
By Mike Perleberg
Dillsboro Town Manager Doug Rump addresses Dearborn County Council about riverboat revenue sharing on Tuesday, June 27. Photo by Mike Perleberg, Eagle Country 99.3.
(Dearborn County, Ind.) – Dearborn County Council sounds like they want to continue sharing riverboat admissions tax revenue with Aurora, Greendale and the county’s four towns: Dillsboro, Moores Hill, St. Leon, and West Harrison.
But, those city and town officials left Tuesday night’s county council meeting without any assurance that the county would continue sharing the revenue next year. County council voted to table the matter while more study is performed to ensure a fix is in line with state law.
A recent audit by the Indiana State Board of Accounts found that a 1997 county resolution establishing the revenue sharing is illegal.
Dearborn County attorney Andy Baudendistel explained that while the county’s sharing of admissions tax revenue is illegal, the City of Lawrenceburg’s sharing is not. Lawrenceburg receives admissions and wagering taxes from Hollywood Casino, while the county gets only admissions tax through an agreement with Lawrenceburg. State law, allows only wagering tax money from a casino’s “home dock” community to be shared – in Hollywood Casino’s case, that’s Lawrenceburg.
The violation has been noted in previous audits and will likely in appear in audits to come for 2016 and 2017. While a blind eye has been turned toward past violations, a new state law due to go into effect July 1 requires local governments to take corrective action and file an action plan when an audit identifies a violation. House Enrolled Act 1031 would allow the State Board of Accounts to put a plan in place if a government does not do so on its own.
Baudendistel said he has had conversations with officials at the Indiana State Board of Accounts about how the revenue sharing may be able to continue in the future.
“They are looking for a way for us to continue to do this,” said Baudendistel.
Like lawmakers in Washington wrestling with health care reform, Dearborn County could have its own “repeal and replace” situation. In a letter from four attorneys representing the cities and towns earlier this month, the attorneys stated their belief that the 1997 resolution can remain in place.
Baudendistel told county council, however, that they should repeal the resolution and replace it with a new one to become legal. He cautioned that law does not allow the revenue sharing to be canceled without reasonable notice.
One potential solution discussed was to make the revenue sharing a grant program for the municipalities, who would apply for, then receive money from the county.
“They have to come back and prove that they met all the stipulations that were set out by you,” said county auditor Gayle Pennington. “It would be handled like grants, kind of like how Lawrenceburg gives its grants.”
County president Liz Morris said she was told by the State Board of Accounts that the grant purposes could be very, very broad.
“They’re not looking at how to put the ball and chain on us,” she explained.
Council member Charlie Keyes said the towns and cities could not budget the money in a grant situation because grants are not guaranteed revenue.
Another idea is to set up a new fund called a “county promotions fund” from which the county would give the municipalities money, providing that agreements are in place stating how the funds would promote Dearborn County.
Baudendistel explained that the idea of home rule may also apply here – a situation where law does not specifically outlaw an activity, so a local government permits itself to do it. An ordinance establishing the revenue sharing program would be needed, he added.
Throughout the meeting, council members seemed to understand the smaller municipalities’ concerns. Councilman Bill Ullrich said he didn’t want to rip the rug out from under any of the communities.
“These dollar amounts are needed by all the municipalities, just like we’ve been getting it,” Ullrich said. “We’re going to take something away, we need to have something to put right back in there.”
Councilman Ryan Brandt, the Town of Dillsboro’s chief of police, expressed concern about whether the amount of revenue sharing will remain the same 25 percent of the county’s admissions tax.
“I don’t think we can rescind it and send them out on their own at budget time without an idea of what to ask for,” said Brandt.
Council member Alan Goodman made the motion to table the issue while the legalities of a fix are determined. The motion passed.
“I hope we can assure everybody that when we get this done, you’ll still be getting what you’ve been getting,” Ullrich told the meeting crowd.
Keyes wanted council to pass a resolution guaranteeing the cities and towns would get their riverboat revenue shares in 2018 by keeping the 1997 resolution in place. By putting the issue off until 2018, the county could still avoid having the SBOA create a corrective action plan until 2019, he reasoned.
Dearborn County also shares a portion of its admissions tax revenue with non-profits entities such as fire and EMS departments, parochial schools, and non-profit organizations such as 4-H and Safe Passage Inc. Baudendistel said the SBOA indicated that sharing gaming revenue with fire and EMS departments can continue as long as the county has contracts for services in place. Sharing with the county’s parochial schools, however, is illegal under state law and should end, Baudendistel said he was told by the SBOA.
Mayors, Town Reps Make Their Pleas
Greendale Mayor Alan Weiss began a parade to the podium at Tuesday’s Dearborn County Council meeting. Becoming concerned after hearing the revelation of illegal revenue sharing at county council’s May meeting, Weiss said he has done his homework on the issue.
“I appreciate tonight the way this conversation has gone,” he said.
Weiss said Greendale has used its gaming money wisely.
“We’ve used that for improving our infrastructure, parks, safety departments. We’ve done a lot of great things that make our city and county look good,” said Weiss. “We try to make sure we don’t spend every dollar we get.”
Dillsboro Town Manager Doug Rump told council that Dillsboro residents also voted to pass casino gaming in Dearborn County in the 1990s under the assumption that the wealth would be shared.
“Please have a replacement for something before you repeal it. We’re willing to help in any way we can,” he said.
John Watson, town attorney for Dillsboro, Moores Hill and St. Leon, reminded council how revenue sharing over the years has allowed the towns to update and improve sewer service in the towns and unincorporated areas. He said the gaming money continues to help the towns underwrite the sewage operations.
Lawrenceburg Mayor Kelly Mollaun approached the podium and told council about how he and other local officials spent much time in Indianapolis during the 2017 legislative session to help to soften the blow of an effort by state lawmakers to reduce casino revenues for host communities.
“I’ve said it on many occasions up there that I was concerned about what happened with everybody that we share our revenue with. That includes the county and every municipality in this room,” said Mollaun.
The county revenue sharing with the cities and towns is allocated by population. Greendale received the largest cut in 2016 at more than $683,000. Aurora’s share was over $630,000. Dillsboro received $227,000. Moores Hill got $105,000. St. Leon received $70,000. West Harrison received the smallest piece at just over $35,000.