DARKE COUNTY — The July 20 edition of The Daily Advocate published an article detailing the money that Darke County receives from revenues collected from casino gambling in the state, reporting that for the second quarter of 2016, the county received $149,369.14.
According to Darke County Commissioners Mike Stegall and Diane Delaplane, however, the money the county receives from casinos barely offsets state budget cuts initiated over the past few years.
“The casino money does not totally offset what we’ve lost from the state over the last few years,” said Stegall, “It’s close, but the other [sources of funding] were more stable.”
The county receives, on average, about $150,000 per quarter, or $600,000 per year, from the state’s casino revenues, but this amount may vary from quarter to quarter.
“I don’t see how anybody in government can count on any specific revenue at any time. Everything fluctuates,” said Stegall. “Sales tax fluctuates. Casino money fluctuates. Property taxes go up and down. How do you say ‘I’m going to get this much next year?’ It’s a crapshoot. We never hit the target because there’s too many variables.”
“The sales tax revenues for the time period I’ve been in here have fluctuated so much, and right now we are at a high level, but again, next year, that might not happen,” added Delaplane.
Commissioner Mike Rhoades earlier stated that the money goes directly into the county’s general fund, and from there it is utilized where it is most needed.
Using the years 2010 and 2014 for comparison purposes, the loss of state funding for the county is obvious.
In 2010, the local government fund was $714,768.51; the personal property fund was $11,421.51; the personal property reimbursement was $239,866.58; and the public utilities reimbursement was $42,968.35.
The 2014 numbers show a different story, with the local government fund at $347,518.53, no money from the personal property fund or personal property reimbursement, and only $3,066.27 from the public utilities reimbursement. Despite the addition of casino money, the county received approximately $58,000 less per year from the state in 2014 than it did in 2010.
Stegall says the current year’s money in comparison to the 2014 figures have not changed much. And though Stegall and Delaplane both agreed they are glad the county is receiving casino money, they point out the county cannot rely on casino money to fund operations.
“We can’t count on casino money,” he said. “That is based on the economy. If people have money to spend, they will; if they don’t, they won’t.”
“We’re trying to save back some of that casino money, but when you lose $300,000-some dollars a year, you have to find it from someplace else,” said Delaplane.
Stegall cited the types of expenses for which the county commissioners are responsible, including maintaining county buildings, many of which are more than 100 years old, as well as operations at various county offices such as the courts and the sheriff’s office.
“Maintenance, computer updates, buying equipment — the general operation of the county,” he explained.
Recent, random examples of spending by the commissioners include an appropriation of $59,712.75 from the county fund to Children Services Support; $1,225 for the purchase and labor of sidewall sprinkler heads at Goodwill on Wagner Avenue; and a transfer of $3,000 to Darke County Job and Family Services to cover unemployment costs.
A typical commissioners’ meeting will also include appropriations to cover the expenses of county employees sent for seminars and training which is mandated by the state.
The cutbacks of funds to local governments have been one of the unintended consequences of the state’s efforts to balance the budget, as well as money that is given to the counties but with “strings attached.”
“Personally I don’t mind us footing the bill if they’ll just leave us alone,” said Stegall. “But whenever we try to do something, they’ll pass some ridiculous unfunded mandate, or tell us ‘OK, you guys can do this, but this is how you have to spend it.’ If you’re not going to help us with the revenue, don’t help us with the spending.”
“A large part of this job is figuring out how we’re going to take our local revenue, spend it the best way we possibly can, at the same time modernize, keep up, and try to get ahead so that the next group of commissioners, all they have to do is maintain,” he added.
“Back in 2008, when the economy was going down, so the economy also affected the county spending too,” said Delaplane. “We’re catching up, with repairs, with replacements, but also the state is requesting certain computer programs for different departments. That’s a cost factor that they’re not funding.”
“We’re the seventh largest county in the state mass-wise, only 52,000 people so we have a lot of surface area. [But] for the amount of people here we do fairly well with sales tax,” said Stegall. “To be honest, for the last 15 to 20 years, I think the Darke County Commissioners have done an outstanding job of keeping their spending in check. The people in our courthouse are doing a wonderful job keeping spending in check. We’ve got a good group of people throughout that don’t spend unnecessarily. We get the absolute most out of every dollar we can.”
“We’re always going to figure that we’re not going to have that money to spend. It’s the wisest choice for the people of Darke County,” he added.
The Darke County Board of Commissioners meets every Monday and Wednesday (except holidays) at 1:30 p.m. at the County Administration building at 520 South Broadway in Greenville. The meetings are open to the public which is invited to attend.