LDC Plans Special Meeting With Berlin On LEOPS Request

SNOW HILL – The committee tasked with reviewing local municipalities’ use of casino revenue is exploring whether Berlin can use its funding to enroll in a law enforcement pension program.

Members of the Local Development Council (LDC) for Ocean Downs Casino this week discussed the Town of Berlin’s plan to use casino revenue to fund enrollment in the Law Enforcement Officers Pension System (LEOPS). Town officials believe LEOPS will help with police recruitment and retention.

“Our job isn’t to decide the best use, it’s to decide if it’s an allowable use,” said Pat Schrawder, Sen. Mary Beth Carozza’s representative at the meeting. “We still don’t know if it’s allowed.”

Last week, the Berlin Town Council approved a motion supporting the future use of its local impact grant (annual casino revenue) to cover the costs of funding LEOPS for the town’s police officers. In the wake of that approved motion, Mayor Zack Tyndall wrote the LDC a letter outlining the town’s plans to use a portion of its local impact grant to fund LEOPS beginning July 1. He said the LEOPS study that’s currently underway should be ready soon and that it would be provided to the LDC at that point. Tyndall also wrote that the Town of Perryville uses its grant to cover the cost of two police officers and their benefits.

Cam Bunting, chair of the LDC, said that since receiving the letter she’d reached out to various state officials in an effort to determine if casino revenue could be used for LEOPS. According to state law, the grants are to be used for improvements in communities in immediate proximity to video lottery facilities. Grants can be used for infrastructure improvements, facilities, public safety, sanitation, economic and community development and other public services.

Bunting said she wasn’t sure LEOPS, which is expected to cost the town more than $200,000 a year, was an appropriate use of casino revenue. She added that once the town enrolled, it would have to fund LEOPS every year, whether it used casino revenue or not.

“LEOPS, it’s a forever,” she said. “Once you’re in LEOPS, you cannot get out.”

Bunting said the town’s water and sewer fees were higher than those of neighboring towns. She said the town had a 15-person police force.

“There are things this money could be used for, for all 3,000 people (in Berlin), not just 15,” she said.

Schrawder pointed out that the language in the town’s motion was not consistent with the language in Tyndall’s letter. She said it wasn’t clear if the town wanted to use all of its casino revenue on LEOPS or not.

“I’d like to know what Berlin’s plan is,” she said, adding that the town should have a backup plan for LEOPS funding in case casino revenue ever decreased.

Matt Gordon, vice chair of the LDC, pointed out that the body was one that made recommendations. He said that if the town didn’t agree with the LDC recommendation, a public hearing would be held to gauge views of citizens. Roscoe Leslie, the county attorney, agreed that a public hearing could be held but said there was no mechanism for withholding the town’s grant if the municipality and the LDC were not in agreement.

Bobbi Sample, Ocean Downs Casino’s representative on the development council, suggested the LDC reach out to its peers across the state to see if they’d entertained requests similar to the one made by Berlin.

“We need to find out the details of what’s been requested in this vein,” she said.

LDC members agreed to schedule a special meeting once the Town of Berlin submitted its LEOPS study as well as its multi-year plan for using the casino revenue. Previously, the town used its casino revenue — which recently has exceeded $400,000 a year — to pay for its new police station on Decatur Street.

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.