SNOW HILL – While the county’s share of casino revenues has increased with the addition of table games, officials say it’s too early to determine the long-term impact.
Finance Officer Phil Thompson presented the Worcester County Commissioners with an update on the local impact grant revenue the county has received from the Ocean Downs Casino at a meeting this week. He reported that during 2018, the county received nearly $389,000 in revenue from table games.
“We’re one year into this and we’re still getting comfortable with where the numbers are really going to come in…,,” he said. “Are these numbers going to be consistent?”
Thompson said this week’s update on funding was in response to the numerous requests the commissioners received during last year’s budget process for additional funding. He pointed out that while the county’s overall casino revenue had increased because of table games, the funding stream was dedicated to paying off the $2.5 million annual debt service attributable to Worcester Technical High School.
He said that last year, even with $2.485 million in total casino revenue, the county had still been required to use some general fund money to cover the debt service. Thompson believes the county’s share of casino revenue could be a bit higher this year. Even so, he suggested the county continue to apply all of the revenue to debt service.
“I’m strongly recommending that we stick to our guns and stay the course regarding the plan to retire that debt,” he said. “Any significant deviation may result in us having to find additional revenues within the county budget to backfill that shortfall.”
Commissioner Jim Bunting said he thought the extra revenue should be used to provide more funding to local fire companies as well as to the towns that didn’t yet receive a share of casino revenue.
“It would solve a couple problems,” he said.
Commissioner Joshua Nordstrom asked if the county was set to pay off the school’s debt on schedule. Thompson said it was, and that the debt would be repaid in four years if the county continued to pay $2.5 million a year.
“Going forward it looks as though we’re going to make the next four years comfortably,” he said.
Commissioner Diana Purnell pointed out that casino funding could only be used for certain purposes, such as infrastructure.
“I think at budget session we need to talk about this and work through this,” she said. “I agree we need to stay on course and get this school paid up and out of the way.”
Thompson said the casino revenue could be used for six purposes, which included infrastructure and public safety, among other things.
“The ultimate decision I believe resides with this body,” he said.
Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Kelly Shannahan reminded the commissioners that they’d adopted a multi-year funding plan for the county’s casino revenue in 2011.
“You could reassess that multi-year plan after the career and tech center has been paid off and determine whether your next priorities in your plan would be appropriate or whether you need to adjust your multi-year plan,” he said.