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Commissioner cautious with casino cash

September 5, 2012
By TOM GIAMBRONI - Staff Writer ( , Morning Journal News

LISBON - At least one Columbiana County commissioner is reluctant to give up any of their casino revenue to communities, at least for now.

That was the opinion expressed by Commissioner Jim Hoppel following Wednesday's meeting, which comes after at least two communities and Hoppel's opponent in the Nov. 6 election have asked commissioners to consider sharing their casino revenue.

"We're not against sharing money ... We just need more time to see how this plays out," he said, adding it would be premature to do so now until the county's uncertain budget situation becomes clearer.

Commissioners received $94,000 in July, which represented the county's first share of taxes generated from Ohio's first two casinos that opened in May. The check covered about five weeks worth of gross casino revenues, which have since dropped by an average of 8 percent.

Also receiving casino tax revenue in the state are Ohio's 10 largest cities and school districts.

Commissioners have indicated they intend to use the casino revenue to offset continuing cuts in their share of state Local Government Fund revenue, which stood at $2.4 million as recently as 2009 but is currently $1.4 million. The county's LGF share is to be cut to $1.1 million next year.

In arguing for a portion of the commissioners' casino revenue, communities point out its share of LGF money has also been cut by the same percentage as the county's, and the impact is just as great proportionately. This was the same point raised at the Aug. 29 commissioners meeting by Center Township Trustee Joe Csonka, who is running against Hoppel.

Hoppel said commissioners already share their annual allocation of federal Community Development Block Grant money, which runs about $400,000. "There's nothing requiring we share that money but we do," Hoppel said, adding that over the past four years they have shared $1.2 million in CDBG money among communities.

Hoppel also noted the county engineer's office provides free labor for resurfacing of township and village roads.

"We've always worked with other government entities and we will continue to do so," he said.

As for sharing casino revenue, Hoppel favors waiting to see if the county's financial situation stabilizes before considering any such plan, and he criticized Csonka for his position on the issue.

"Here we have a person who has never worked out a county budget and has no idea what we've gone through for the past 20 years, and he just wants to give money away," Hoppel said. "We have to stabilize our budget before we can begin doing that."

He disputed whether the other communities have taken as big a financial hit since its LGF allocations are significantly less than commissioners. In the county's case, LGF money is the commissioners' second largest source of operating revenue behind the county sales tax.

"Many of these townships have been in better shape than we've been, and we've got duties that extend across the entire county," Hoppel said.



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