BERLIN– The town could begin using casino revenue to fund a pension system for law enforcement officers.
On Monday, Berlin officials discussed the possibility of using the town’s share of casino revenues to enroll Berlin’s police in the Law Enforcement Officers Pension System (LEOPS).
“Everybody else around us has it,” Berlin Police Chief Arnold Downing said. “Federalsburg, Snow Hill, Crisfield and us are the only ones that don’t.”
In recent years, the town has received between $300,000 and $400,000 in annual casino impact funds associated with Ocean Downs Casino. Since 2017, that funding has been used to pay for construction of the town’s new police department. Mayor Zack Tyndall told the council this week the payoff date on that was coming in December of 2022.
“With that being said it’s important for the Town of Berlin to identify our priorities as it relates to that funding,” he said.
Tyndall said the town had explored LEOPS for its law enforcement—who are currently enrolled in the state’s retirement system—more than 10 years ago but hadn’t been able to afford the estimated $250,000 annual cost. With the police station payoff date nearing, Tyndall said he wanted to include funding for a LEOPS study in the budget so the town could consider implementing it in the future.
“That’s required to bring the numbers current, to understand the cost of what LEOPS would be for implementation,” he said. “Once we have an up-to-date study we’d be able to move forward with that benefit for our officers.”
Councilman Jay Knerr said while the town could explore LEOPS it should also look at other necessary expenditures. Staff noted that the last administration had discussed the idea of using casino revenue to build a community center.
Councilman Jack Orris said LEOPS might not take all of the town’s annual casino revenues. Tyndall agreed.
“Once we understand what that full cost is, it doesn’t say that future revenue that exceeds whatever that amount is could not be reallocated,” Tyndall said.
Orris added that even if the town did choose to use casino revenue for LEOPS, a backup plan to fund the pension system should be in place.
“Whatever we decide to do, we should probably develop some sort of sustainability plan,” he said.
Downing said the town would have some funding to launch its enrollment in LEOPS because it had money leftover from the employer contribution to officer retirement.
“Right now you have a big pot of money just sitting there because employees have left before being vested,” he said.
Downing said the first step was to get the study complete. Once that is done, officials can determine if the town can afford the cost.
“I think we really want this study to happen,” he said. “When you see the numbers in front of you you get to go ahead and make a decision.”
Town Administrator Jeff Fleetwood recalled a conversation he’d had with Downing regarding LEOPS previously.
“He shared with me that all these entities have LEOPS, we do not,” Fleetwood said. “It’s called priorities.”
Tyndall said that when the town initially explored the concept of LEOPS, few local agencies were enrolled.
“Now that has totally shifted to where Berlin is one of the few without it,” he said. He added that he wanted to initiate discussion regarding the town’s casino revenue before the police station was paid off.
Finance Director Natalie Saleh said the town would need a backup plan for LEOPS funding in case casino revenues dropped. She pointed out that the cost of LEOPS could go up and down as could the town’s casino impact grant.
“They’re both variable numbers,” she said.