Commissioners Workshop, February 22, 2011 — When the county commissioners got back around to trying figure out how to spend its windfall from Penn National Gaming, things quickly got mired down in some surprising details. Kicking off that late afternoon discussion, were issues about government transparency, whether Local Development Council meetings should be advertised, and questions about shutting the public out of commissioners meetings. Before the commissioners reopened the boardroom door to the public at 4:00 p.m., they wrapped up a private session with Penn National.
But concerns about putting as much sunshine as possible on the affairs of local government weren’t the eyebrow raising issue. The surprise came about as they talked about the county taking some of the cash it’s received from the casino to reimburse that enterprise for certain “upgrades related to infrastructure” costs, as agreed to by the previous board.
That cash is going to come out of the revenue the casino hands over to the county for distribution to projects having an impact on the area. It was hard to sort it all out from the public standpoint as much of the discussion was a carryover from the closed-door discussion that had just taken place. In this late afternoon meeting, with only one member of the public present, and three media representatives taking notes, President Mullin joked as things went back and forth, “look they’re all writing.”
This subject came up when Commissioner Broomell questioned the allocation of $1.9-million for Penn National on the priority list. “We committed to that” Commissioner Hodge hastily responded and the county attorney has informed us that it’s a legally binding agreement. He was referencing an arrangement made by the previous board. “I’m getting an Attorney General’s opinion to see if the Sept. 2009 letter signed by Lockhart is legally binding,” Commissioner Dunn added. As the exchange continued, Commissioner Broomell wondered how this was going to appear to the public.
The commitment is for infrastructure costs that Penn National incurred as it developed the site. Based on that understanding, some allocation to reimburse the casino has been included in the present list of 44-projects, but the amount was unclear. As the elected officials discussed what portion of the local impact money for the casino shouldreserved for the site’s infastructure costs, they eventually agreed, for the moment, to list that allocation as “to be determined.”
A Sept. 2009 county government letter said the county and the Town of Perryville would “each allocate one-third of the planned expenditures to PNG [Penn National Gaming] until the actual authorized infrastructure costs” were reimbursed. That correspondence noted that the costs were associated with the Route 222/I-95 upgrade and Perryville water and wastewater facilities.
State regulations require that 5.5% of the casino’s revenue be handed over the county to fund local impact projects. Thirty-five percent of that goes to Perryville and a few weeks ago the board learned that Baltimore & Prince George’s County get 18% off the top of the local impact funds, beginning this July.
It is estimated that the casino operation will generate about $4.4-million in revenue for the local jurisidctions, through June 30, 2011, according to Craig Whiteford, the County Finance Officer.
This is a developing story and as it had a great deal of complexity we’re still working on it. The agenda for the closed-door session said it was a meeting about a “proposal for a business or industrial organization to locate, expand, or remain in the State.” As a result of an inquiry from Someone Noticed the county released a statement that added they were discussing “reimbursement of infrastructure cost proposals” with Penn National Gaming. The form also notes that Penn national is to provide more detailed information, including a breakdown of off-site tasks and infrastructure costs.