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Casino cash could boost county’s bottom line

Budget process to start in about a month

Starting the budget process early is the goal of the Lawrence County Commissioners who plan to start hearing pleas for money from officeholders in October.

“I want to do it early,” Commission President Les Boggs said. “Everything is on the table.”

This year the commission will be drafting its first budget that includes a new component: The revenue from the fledgling casinos in the state. There are four casinos slated for operation by next year. Already casinos in Cleveland and Toledo have opened, with one in Columbus scheduled to begin operating in October and the last, in Cincinnati, set for next spring.

Thirty-three percent of the casinos’ gross revenue is going to all 88 counties with individual county distribution made according to population. That distribution will be made quarterly.

So far Lawrence County has received $54,000 from the initial collection from the two casinos for their first few weeks of operation.

And that could go up to $150,000 to $200,000 a quarter, Boggs said.

How this revenue will boost the county’s general fund remains an unknown.

In December the commission adopted a budget of $13,181,135 with the amount of revenue certified for 2012 to come in at $14,654,358. That is almost one million less than the budget for 2011.

Right now revenue projections for the rest of the year show the county should meet that certified figure, according to Deputy Auditor Chris Kline.

“It looks like we probably will, but that could change,” Kline said.

The current budget was drawn up to provide a carryover of approximately $1.4 million, with the goal of having that as a cushion for unexpected expenses.

One such expense cropped up about a week into the New Year when the commission had to set up a special fund to take care of the extra paycheck that is owed county employees every 11th or 12th year because of Leap Year.

That extra check due in 2015 will cost the county an additional $220,000. To cover that, the county is now depositing $5,000 a month for the first 11 months of each year until 2015.

Also at the first of the year, more than a half-million dollars was appropriated to meet requests from a variety of officeholders, leaving about a half-million dollars for a carryover to 2013.

However, projections can change suddenly and dramatically.

A few years ago a state department of taxation audit of a local organization showed that entity was due a $350,000 refund on the sales and use tax it had paid to the county, reducing the county’s revenue by that amount.

“Someone had filed incorrectly,” Kline said. “Those things are looming out there.”

Overall, 2012 property tax collections — the lion’s share of county revenue — are about $600,000 ahead of last year’s collections. The first half brought in $16.4 million compared with $15.6 million in 2011 and second half at $9.7 million or about $200,000 less that last year.

But a key reduction in revenue that the county has had to contend with for the past two years comes from the state-issued Local Government Fund. That will be faced again in 2013 as cutbacks remain. In 2011, the LGF was $1,055,000. This year the amount was reduced to $806,000. These funds are distributed from July of one year to June of the next, while the county’s budget covers the period from January to December.

That means that in 2012, the county got $527,500 for one half of the LGF payout but $403,000 for the second half.

For the budget in 2013, the county will get the second half of the current LGF, $403,000, but doesn’t know the amount for the last part of the year.

Boggs, who stopped the county’s practice of creating temporary budgets before finalizing a budget months later, wants a 2013 budget in place by mid-November.

“We anticipate the process to be fair and equitable to all,” he said.