County officials work at state level to protect riverboat revenues

350

Switzerland County elected officials traveled to Indianapolis recently to support issues important to Switzerland County. County Commissioner Craig Bond as well as County Council members Mike Jones and Steve Crabtree have made recent trips to the statehouse to protect the interests of the community.

At the top of the county’s legislative priorities is the protection of the revenue the county receives from the Belterra Casino. Some legislators have made attempts to take local gaming revenue from riverboat communities. In 2005, two attempts were made to take the revenue in the same legislative session.

“This revenue benefits every resident of Switzerland County in some way,” said Craig Bond, pointing out that the dollars are used to support Fire Departments, Emergency Medical Services, schools, and a variety of local organizations, as well as to hold down Switzerland County property tax rates.

Local gaming revenue has been at an even greater risk in the 2008 legislative session as Indiana is suffering from a statewide property tax assessment crisis. In some areas of the state, property taxes increased by as much as 300 percent.

“The state is looking for money to solve this problem,” said Craig Bond. “We want to make sure they don’t take money from the people of Switzerland County to lower taxes in Indianapolis.”

A bill has passed the Indiana Senate that places local riverboat development agreements under the jurisdiction of the Indiana Gaming Commission.

Senate Bill 255 goes as far as to authorize a casino to withhold payments for several reasons including a determination that “payments are not benefiting the economic development of the geographic area intended.”

According to Indiana law, local gaming revenue is to be used for promoting tourism and assisting economic development.

“We are happy to report what we are doing with the money,” said Steve Crabtree. “But we are very concerned that this might be the first step of taking these dollars away from us.”

The Indiana General Assembly is considering other issues important to Switzerland County this year, including the creation of a new Circuit Court in the county. Currently, Switzerland County shares a Circuit Court and Prosecutor with Jefferson County.

House Bill 1096 included the creation of the Switzerland County Circuit Court. The bill passed the Indiana House of Representatives but the creation of the court was one of several provisions removed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Since the most circuit court and prosecutor costs are funded by the state, this new court would save the county money.

“We are not ready to give up on the new court yet.” said Mike Jones “The legislature still has two weeks left.”

The 2008 legislative session will end by March 15th.

– Jewell DeBonis, Lewis and Kappes