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Perryville at standstill with county on casino money

Casino and Gambling IndustryFinanceAmusement and Theme ParksSix Flags Inc.Censorship

The Town of Perryville remains at a standstill with Cecil County on an agreement to distribute local impact money from the Hollywood Casino Perryville.

Town officials say they will seek further information to determine their next step, which could lead to a court battle between the two sides.

At Tuesday's meeting, the town commissioners voted to fund a youth outreach program through September when the town expects to receive about $60,000 in grant money for the program from the county.

"As you all know, funding for the outreach program was in the LDC money," Mayor Jim Eberhardt said, referring to local impact grant money from the Hollywood Casino Perryville.

The slots casino, under state law, is required to give 5.5 percent of its gross gaming revenue per month to Perryville and Cecil County as part of the local impact grant. In 2009, Perryville and Cecil County agreed the local impact grant money would be split with 65 percent going to the county and 35 percent to the town.

According to the latest state figures, the casino has generated more than $4.5 million in local impact grant money since it opened last September.

In order to get the money, the town and county were required to come up with a multi-year plan for spending the money, in consultation with the local development council, or LDC.

In a recent meeting between the town and the county, Perryville officials learned the county commissioners had inserted a sunset clause into the agreement. The clause would bring the agreement to an end in three years, opening the town and the county to renegotiate the division of money.

At the June town meeting, the town commissioners and the mayor said they did not agree to the clause and their impression was that in three years the county hoped to change the division of funds to the disadvantage of Perryville.

Several items in this fiscal year's town budget, which began July 1, were counting on impact grant money for funding.

Though town leaders took action Tuesday to fund the outreach program through September, they recognized the program may be in jeopardy without the casino local impact money.

Town Commissioner Michael Dawson cast the lone dissenting vote on the budget amendment for the youth outreach program.

Dawson asked about trips to Six Flags amusement park that the outreach program takes and how much the program gets in fundraising each year before casting his vote against the amendment.

The mayor, police chief and several commissioners said the trips were funded by last year's grant money that had to be used in certain ways, such as for trips, and only those who participated in the program's life skills classes or community outreach activities were eligible for the trips.

At the end of the meeting, Dawson asked why the casino split issue was not put on the agenda as he had requested. Dawson, who was just elected to the town board in May, said he had questions about the casino and asked on what grounds items are placed on or left off of the agenda.

Eberhardt said the board is seeking additional information and would discuss legal issues regarding the slots revenue and the casino with legal counsel in closed session following the meeting.

Out of that closed session came a decision on the next step in securing the impact funding.

"Basically what came out of that was we are going to be seeking some further information from all the parties through the freedom of information act," Eberhardt said Thursday morning.

He explained that the town will seek any information pertaining to local development funds primarily from Cecil County and the state.

"It is to determine what our next step will be and make sure we have all the facts and have them right," Eberhardt said.

As of Thursday, the board had made no decision about whether there will be legal action.

Eberhardt referenced several budget items, including the outreach program and hiring additional police officers, that were supposed to be funded by local impact grant money.

Out of 269 calls for Perryville police service, 22 calls were to the casino.

Eberhardt said calls to the casino take officers away from the town and, without impact funding for additional officers, the problem will only get worse.

"Clearly, we think that's exactly what that impact fund was for," Eberhardt said of funding additional police officer positions.

Eberhardt said once the information requests are made, those responding will have 30 days to supply answers. After that, the town will determine the next step.

"It's going to be a while yet," he said.

Revenue down in June

The Maryland Lottery, which oversees the casino in Perryville and another operating near Ocean City, reported the gross gaming revenue at Perryville was $8.8 million in June, the second straight month that revenue from the casino has declined. Revenue from the Ocean Downs casino in Worcester County was almost $3.8 million in June.

Casino revenue at Perryville was $9.6 million in May and $10.5 million in April. June's revenue brought total revenue at Perryville to $82.6 million for its first fiscal year of operation. The casino opened last Sept. 27, almost three months into the 2011 state fiscal year which ended June 30.

The local impact share of Perryville casino's revenue in June was $485,000, according to the lottery.

Total local impact revenue for the fiscal year reached $4.54 million.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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