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Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

Lady Luck favors schools, counties for funds

County's share of casino revenues up in April

By Shelley Grieshop
CELINA - The dice continue to roll in favor of schools and counties with ongoing increases in casino tax dollars.
Mercer County netted $462,624 in revenues in 2013 - the first year all four Ohio casinos were operational. The county's most recent quarterly allotment in April was $119,124, up 4.6 percent from one year ago.
Officials are skeptical whether the trend will continue.
"I think it would be a real gamble to bet on a major increase in the casino funds at the end of July," Mercer County Auditor Randy Grapner said. "The glitz is wearing off."
Ohio's statute gives 51 percent of the casino tax to each county on a quarterly basis. Grapner said he did not include the funds in his 2012 forecast because of the uncertainty of the figures. However, he is now.
"I was very conservative in 2013 but now I'm certainly adding it to our revenue forecast," he said.
Grapner calculates the county will continue to receive about $12,000 per casino, per month.
County commissioner Jerry Laffin said the casino revenue isn't earmarked. Like most local governments and schools, the extra dollars head straight into the general fund for operating expenses.
"We're looking at it conservatively," Laffin said. "We may start looking at it closer in years when we have a pretty good carryover."
To maintain a good credit rating, the county strives to achieve an 18 percent carryover based on the annual budget. The county has been near that figure the last two years, Laffin said.
Auglaize County in April received $134,125 - up from $127,426 collected in the first quarter of April 2013. The county garnered $518,829 in casino tax revenue in 2013.
School districts net 34 percent of the casino tax twice per year based on student population. Celina City Schools - the largest district in Mercer County - received about $68,000 in January, compared with $55,000 in January 2013.
In all, the school has cleared nearly $190,000 since the casinos first opened.
"It's aiding our education," said Celina schools treasurer Mick Davis. "It's not tagged for anything specific; it goes in the general fund."
The extra funds - like any revenues received by the district - have an effect on the schools' annual $27 million budget, he said.
"When you're in a crunch, all types of revenue are helpful," Davis said.
Coldwater schools received approximately $29,000 in casino tax money in January 2013, compared to $36,000 in January. Superintendent Rich Seas said the funds are "blended" in the five-year forecast but not targeted for special expenditures.
"I don't know if we could ever earmark it for anything other than the general operating budget," he said. "From year to year you just don't know what money you're going to get."
Seas said funds from the state are not predictable so every type of revenue received is needed to ensure the best education for students.
Voters in November 2009 approved casino gambling at four sites across the state: Cleveland, Toledo, Cincinnati and Columbus. The Horseshoe Cincinnati was the last to open in March 2013.
According to Gary Gudmundson, communications director for the Ohio Department of Taxation, distributions of tax revenues from casino profits, to date, total $470.2 million.
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