By Cindy Hoffman, Staff Writer
(Oct. 19, 2023) Local Impact Grant funds from Ocean Downs Casino revenue will be used by the Town of Berlin for the Law Enforcement Officers Pension System, or LEOPS, with $175,000 going to a hoped-for community center in Berlin and $45,000 for an ambulance replacement fund from unassigned funds.
The vote last Tuesday by the Town Council was 4-1 to approve the multi-year spending plan.
According to a memo dated Oct. 10, from the mayor and council to the Local Development Council of Worcester County, “Since the inception of the Local Impact Grant, or LIG, the Town of Berlin has utilized grant funding for “public safety” and intends to continue to prioritize public safety spending over the next three fiscal years.”
The primary public safety expenditure is LEOPS.
The council approved a LEOPS stabilization fund of $425,000 and projected funding for Fiscal Year 2024 of $340,000, Fiscal Year 2025 of $350,000 and Fiscal Year 2026 of $360,000.
Councilmember Jack Orris was the only member who opposed the decision.
“I don’t think the stabilization fund should come from the same source [casino funds]. It needs to be clearly defined that we are not banking on the casino for our back-up,” Orris said.
The council members debated where money for LEOPS and the stabilization fund should come from, if not from casino funds.
Previously, the council agreed that they should not be paying 100 percent of funding for LEOPS out of casino funds.
But Mayor Zack Tyndall said he did not know where else the council might get the money it needs for the program, noting that 30 percent of the town’s general fund is associated with public safety.
In a separate vote, the council unanimously approved the opening of a LEOPs stabilization fund.
Orris was on board for this motion, because while he was not supportive of the source of the funding, he did support a stabilization fund for LEOPS.
The memo continued “Due to the uncertainty of our current economic environment, the Town of Berlin is reducing our LIG revenue projections to $420,000 for Fiscal 2024, Fiscal 2025, and Fiscal 2026. If LIG revenue exceeds projections, any changes to expenditures will be reflected on the Town of Berlin’s LIG Expenditure Report provided to the Worcester County Local Development Council each year.”
Councilwoman Shaneka Nichols made the suggestion that $200,000 in unassigned LIG funding go to a proposed community center. Councilman Steve Green supported funding for the community center and Councilman Jack Knerr suggested taking $45,000 of that money for the ambulance replacement fund.
The proposed location for a community center is at the current multipurpose building and Head Start facility on Flower Street. A proposed budget for the full costs of a community center is not known at this time, according to Town Administrator Mary Bohlen, who said more fundraising efforts and grants will be sought.
Berlin’s share of the local gambling proceeds is projected to be higher than the funds needed for LEOPS.
Residual impact funds can be used for infrastructure improvements, facilities, sanitation, economic and community development and other public services and improvements.