Berlin Town Council Seeks Casino Funds For LEOPS

Berlin Town Council Seeks Casino Funds For LEOPS
File photo by Chris Parypa

BERLIN – Berlin leaders made official their desire to use casino revenue to fund enrollment in a pension fund for police with a resolution this week.

The Berlin Town Council this week voted 4-1 to approve a resolution supporting the future use of the town’s casino revenue to cover the costs of funding LEOPS (Law Enforcement Officers Pension System) for Town of Berlin officers. Enrolling in LEOPS is meant to help with police retention and recruitment.

Mayor Zack Tyndall said the resolution was meant to show that the council was serious about its intentions.

“It’s saying it’s a priority for us, and we want to continue that conversation,” he said.

Tyndall told the council that each September, the town had to submit a report regarding its use of casino revenue. At that time the municipality is also asked about how it plans to use future funds. This past fall, the Town of Berlin advised the Local Development Council (LDC), the group that oversees the community’s use of casino revenue, that it wanted to use its annual casino grant to fund LEOPS. While the LDC asked to see the LEOPS study the town commissioned, which is still underway, Tyndall said in the interim he wanted to have the council pass a motion regarding the intention to pursue LEOPS to show that the council was unified in the effort.

“I kind of feel this motion as it is now is a little premature,” Councilman Jack Orris said.

Tyndall said the motion was imperative because the town wanted to enroll in LEOPS this summer.

“We’re up against the timeline of our FY24 budget process,” he said.

Orris pointed out that LEOPS might not require all of the town’s annual casino revenue. He said the council hadn’t yet discussed how it might use any excess funding. Orris added that the LDC still had to consult state officials to ensure LEOPS was a valid use of casino revenue.

“This is not an indication I don’t’ want to do this, I just feel this is premature,” he said.

Tyndall said there was a municipality in Maryland that used casino revenue to fund two officers and their benefits.

“All signs at the state level point toward yes,” he said.

Orris asked if the town had a backup plan for funding LEOPS, which is expected to cost the town more than $200,000 a year, in case casino revenue declined in the event of a catastrophe like a pandemic.

Tyndall said the town would create a reserve fund, a LEOPS stabilization fund, as it had done for health care in case those costs went up suddenly.

“When were we going to hear about this?” Orris asked.

Tyndall said officials would have a more detailed discussion once the LEOPS study came back. Staff said it was expected next week.

Councilman Dean Burrell said the LDC had recommended last year that the town submit its casino revenue spending plan along with its LEOPS study.

Orris added that the request to use the money for LEOPS might be viewed more favorably if the town showed it had a multifaceted proposal, including a backup funding plan.

Burrell said he didn’t see anything wrong with informing the LDC of the town’s intentions but said he felt it didn’t need to be done with a motion.

“I’m just kind of hesitant not having the study in hand,” he said.

Tyndall said the motion wouldn’t take the place of a more comprehensive casino revenue spending plan.

“We have to start the conversation with the LDC sooner rather than later,” he said.

Orris maintained that he supported enrolling in LEOPS but just wanted to make sure the town was prudent and got the process right.

Tyndall stressed that the LDC meets next week, and he felt the town should make its intentions known then if Berlin wanted to get LEOPS in place this summer.

Councilman Steve Green said the LDC meeting was Jan. 18 and that council wasn’t going to take Berlin’s LEOPS request to the state until the study was in hand.

“It’s going to require a special meeting of the LDC,” he said, adding that he didn’t see the immediate need for a motion.

“This would merely say the mayor and council support LEOPS,” Tyndall said.

Councilman Jay Knerr said all council members were saying was that they wanted to see the study data before approaching the LDC.

Police Chief Arnold Downing said the town should approach the LDC with consensus.

“As soon as we say we’re for LEOPS we have the opportunity for other people to hear it and maybe come to us,” Downing said. “Maybe if they hear it, the officers working now won’t be listening to $10,000 Salisbury, or to Worcester County, and those other places that have better benefits. It’s as simple as that. It’s more a perception than anything else.”

Councilwoman Shaneka Nichols made a motion to support the future use of casino revenue for LEOPS. The council voted 4-1, with Knerr opposed, to approve it.

“My words mean something, but if this has to be done tonight to show we support our police officers, I’ll support the motion,” Green said.

Knerr said he supported pursuing LEOPS but didn’t want to do it in a piecemeal manner.

“I want to see the study,” he said. “I want to formulate a plan.”

To that end, Orris made a motion to schedule a work session to review the LEOPS study once it was available and formulate a specific funding plan.

The motion passed unanimously.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.