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Counties, schools don’t count on casino cash

Clark, Champaign leaders say payments won’t equal estimates and amount to fraction of total budget.

Counties received their share of casino revenue from the state this month, and local school districts across Ohio will get their payment next month, but most local officials said the money isn’t reliable and likely won’t have a big impact on their budget.

In Champaign County, for example, it’s not clear yet whether the casino payments will match even the county’s most conservative estimates by the end of the year. And state experts said the revenues will be too unreliable to consistently predict until at least 2015, when all seven of the state’s proposed racinos are expected to be operating.

An original state estimate showed Champaign County would receive approximately $604,000 in casino revenue through the year, said Andrea Millice, Champaign County administrator. But in part due to a recommendation from the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, Millice said the county budgeted more conservatively, for about $453,660.

State records show the county will receive $123,481 from the casino tax this month. In all, the county has received a total of about $325,600 so far this year, including the July payment.

“Certainly, if you’d banked on that $600,000, you’d be in trouble at this point,” Millice said.

Information from the Ohio Department of Taxation shows Clark County will receive about $1.1 million this year, including the July payment.

Clark County officials anticipated about $720,000, which they will exceed, said Nathan Kennedy, county administrator. However, Kennedy said that figure is still much less than what was initially promised several years ago before the casinos opened.

The new money Clark County receives from the casinos will also not be enough to make up for recent state cuts to Local Government Funds, Kennedy said.

“Right now, in our case, it’s probably a wash because of local government fund cuts,” Clark County Commissioner John Detrick said.

The revenue Clark County received from the casinos is only a small percentage of its roughly $36 million general fund budget.

State experts also cautioned that the revenue counties receive from the state’s four operating casinos will remain unreliable until at least 2015, when seven racinos are expected to be operational. Right now, only two of those sites are up and running, said Brad Cole, director of research for the County Commissioner’s Association of Ohio.

Under Ohio’s distribution formula, counties receive 51 percent of tax revenue the state collects from the casinos, although the state’s eight largest cities also receive a cut. About 34 percent is set aside for school districts.

Initial estimates on how much revenue the counties would receive were mostly speculation, said John Leutz, senior policy analyst for the CCAO. State officials are just now getting a better handle on what kind of revenues the counties can expect.

“The significant trends are that every single month except one, each individual casino’s revenue profit totals have fallen off,” Leutz said. “So there is a very clear pattern of a slow but steady decrease in revenues after a casino opens.”

Complicating the issue, Ohio’s four casinos will eventually compete with seven racinos across the state for customers. While schools will receive revenue from both the casinos and racinos, counties only receive revenue from the casinos. That competition could lead to as much as a 27 percent reduction in casino revenue, which would mean counties receive even less funding.

Leutz said the CCAO is advising counties to look at the casino money as separate from their general fund budget because it’s unclear how much money will be available in the next few years.

“You don’t want to get addicted to a certain level of casino revenue because it might not be there,” Leutz said.

Schools across the state are also expected to receive their share of casino revenue later this summer, although local treasurers said the exact amount each district receives won’t be clear until late August because the money is distributed on a per-student basis.

Some districts are expecting as much as a 19 percent increase compared the the previous distribution, which was made in January.

For Triad Local Schools, the district’s $20,900 payment in January was based on 998 students, our about $21 per student, said Connie Cohn, treasurer for the district. A 19 percent increase in casino money would mean about a $24,900 payment for the district. However, Cohn also pointed out that the district’s total budget is about $9.8 million, so the casino revenue amounts to only about 0.25 percent of the district’s budget.

At Urbana City Schools, the district’s payment in January was about $44,400 or about $20.72 per student. It’s not clear what the August payment will be, but Hildebrand said it will only be a tiny portion of the district’s overall budget.

The casino payment for Springfield City Schools was $154,000, which was in line with the district’s projection, said Dale Miller, treasurer for Springfield City Schools. Including the payment later this year, the district is anticipating about $440,000 in casino revenue.

“We were conservative because we anticipated the casino revenues were not going to be as strong as the original projection,” Miller said.

The district’s overall budget is $82 million, so the casino payment amounts to less than 1 percent of the general fund budget.

At Northeastern Local Schools, treasurer Denise Robinson said the district received about $75,000 in its first payment, an average of about $22 per student. While any additional income is welcome, Robinson said, the district’s overall budget is about $26 million.

“You put things in perspective,” Robinson said, “It’s not even a drop in the bucket.”

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