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Published: Tuesday, 7/31/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

Counties get casino revenue

Payouts help governments plug holes in depleted budgets

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BOWLING GREEN -- Wood County Engineer Ray Huber hasn't been to the new Hollywood Casino Toledo, but he felt Monday as if he hit the jackpot. The county commissioners announced that the county's first check for casino tax revenue -- $110,296 -- would go into the engineer's road and bridge fund.

"Thank you to the county commissioners for this surprise windfall," Mr. Huber said at a news conference Monday. "It's not many Monday mornings that you can come to work and find out you have additional funds in your depleted funds."

Checks from casino taxes for Ohio's 88 counties are to be cut by the state by today.

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The constitutional amendment approved by Ohio voters in 2009 imposed a 33 percent state tax on the casinos' adjusted gross revenue.

Of that tax revenue, 51 percent is being distributed among Ohio's 88 counties based on their populations.

Counties such as Lucas that have a city with a population of 80,000 or more split their share with that city.

Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken said the county plans to use its payout of $192,041 to balance the county's general fund. Most of it, he said, is to be spent on sheriff's services and law enforcement.

The city of Toledo also is to receive $192,041, much of which is likely to go into the general fund. City spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei said some of the money also may be placed in the city's budget stabilization "rainy day" fund "to begin building our reserves and getting ourselves back on solid financial ground."

In Wood County, the commissioners said they will take a look at the county's financial picture each quarter before deciding how to spend the casino tax revenue, but the road and bridge fund will be the priority.

"The state's allocation of gas tax to the counties has never really enabled Wood County to keep pace with our road and bridge needs. We are the seventh-largest geographically in the state and have a lot more road and bridge needs than many other counties," Commissioner Tim Brown said. "We also feel that the less time school buses have to spend on the road, the less time emergency vehicles have to spend in response to our citizens and businesses is good for all of Wood County."

Mr. Huber said his office maintains 440 bridges and 224 miles of roads.

Forty-four of those bridges need repair or replacement, and four are closed, he said.

"Of those 44, on average, I can replace about five bridges per year with the budget I receive from the gasoline and license-plate-tax money," Mr. Huber said. "The problem is that each year that goes by, other bridges begin to fall into the category of need replacement or need repair."

Smaller northwest Ohio counties say they'll put their casino revenue into their general funds to help make up for income they've lost in other areas.

In Seneca County, Administrator Stacy Wilson said the commissioners plan to use a $49,292 payout to offset general-fund income lost because the number of detainees the county jail houses for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has declined.

Ottawa County, which is to get $36,134, and Fulton County, which is to get $37,107, said the money will be used for routine operating expenses.

Hancock County Commissioner Phil Riegle said his county's $65,516 share of casino taxes will go into the general fund, likely to help cover unexpected expenses that have arisen with juvenile court and veterans' services or to pay for building and parking lot maintenance projects the county has been putting off.

"We could use the amount we got times 10," Mr. Riegle said, noting that reduced local aid from the state and declining investment income have cost Hancock County about $2 million in annual revenue.

"We've cut our budgets and worked with other elected officials and changed our insurance and things like that, and we've been able to survive and keep our costs as low as possible," he said. "That doesn't mean it's not felt."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-724-6129.



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