Officials Discuss Casino Revenue Uses In Berlin

Officials Discuss Casino Revenue Uses In Berlin
File photo by Chris Parypa

BERLIN– Apparently in agreement casino revenues shouldn’t cover the entire cost of LEOPS, Berlin officials this week talked about other ways the town’s annual local impact grant could be used.

In a work session Monday, the Berlin Town Council discussed hiring a code enforcement officer, mapping the town’s underground infrastructure, supporting the long-awaited community center and providing additional funding to the Berlin Fire Company as possible uses for the town’s casino revenues. Projections show the town receiving more than $418,000 in casino revenue in fiscal year 2024, $458,284 in fiscal year 2025 and $502,279 in fiscal year 2026.

“Keep in mind these are projections,” Mayor Zack Tyndall said. “None of that is set in stone.”

While the council voted earlier this month to enroll in the LEOPS (Law Enforcement Officers Pension System) to help with police recruitment and retention, officials have not yet decided how to fund the roughly $340,000 annual expense. Councilmen Steve Green and Jay Knerr have advocated for funding LEOPS with a portion of the local impact grant to allow the town to allocate funds to other projects as well. While Knerr brought up the issue of West Street improvements this week, Councilman Dean Burrell mentioned infrastructure mapping. Green suggested eliminating or reducing the water and sewer capital fees recently implemented. Councilman Jack Orris brought up the idea of hiring a code enforcement officer.

Officials also discussed purchasing radios staff could use, particularly during storms or busy events when cell phones were reliable. Tyndall said the town could probably purchase 20 for $125,000. He said the town needed at least 40 but they could start with half that.

“We needed 20 last year when it was cut (from the budget),” he said. “There is such a thing as too few because then you can’t use them.”

Tyndall said a citizen reporting system could be developed to help with code enforcement. Orris noted that even so, another employee would ensure the burden of enforcement wouldn’t fall onto existing planning staff, as the department consists of just two people.

Burrell agreed he’d like the town to be more proactive regarding enforcement but said he didn’t want residents to have to bring issues to staff’s attention.

“We should not strive to put our citizens in situations they snitch on their neighbors,” he said.

Green echoed his concern and said he wanted to see the town more proactive than reactive.

“The restricting part is dollars and cents,” Tyndall responded.

He added that that was why he felt officials couldn’t establish a true multi-year spending plan for casino revenue until the budget development process was underway.

“I think it’s important for us to see those things in front of us,” he said, adding that he’d recommended not having this week’s work session on the topic.

Orris said he thought all of the projects being discussed were important ones. Like Green, he expressed interest in at least reducing the water and sewer capital fees.

Finance Director Natalie Saleh said that historically, the town used casino revenues within the general fund and would have to determine if the funding could be used for enterprise funds like water and sewer. She added that the capital fees were meant to be set aside to pay for future capital projects.

“What is the assurance we will have the slots at this projection going forward?” she said. “Slots revenue is very volatile revenue.”

The council nevertheless expressed interest in using casino revenues for a variety of projects going forward. Green, acknowledging staff’s concerns that West Street improvements would cost millions, said maybe the town could start a fund to save for the project. Tyndall said maybe improvements to the street could be tackled in pieces. West Street resident Marie Velong said the street had been ignored for 50 years despite the fact that it was used by schools as well as farm traffic. She said it was frustrating to see constant improvements in the area of Main Street while West Street was ignored.

“It’s getting really annoying to listen to,” she said.

Tyndall said the council would continue discussions regarding casino revenue after budget work sessions occurred.

“I have a feeling it’ll probably take two meetings but we’ll have a better understanding,” he said.

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.