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Local Development Council questions Berlin casino revenue spending

Members of the Local Development Council, the committee that reviews how local jurisdictions use casino revenues, is continuing to question the Town of Berlin’s spending plan.

Downtown Berlin

Berlin Main Street
File photo

By Charlene Sharpe, Associate Editor

The committee reviewing how local jurisdictions use casino revenues continues to question the Town of Berlin’s spending plan.

The Local Development Council (LDC) had numerous questions regarding Berlin’s plan to use its share of casino revenues to fund enrollment in the Law Enforcement Officers Pension System (LEOPS). While no one from Berlin was in attendance to answer questions, Mayor Zack Tyndall said that was because the town doesn’t have a standing member on the committee and was not advised in advance that there would be any questions. 

“The LDC is composed of members appointed by the county commissioners,” Tyndall said. “The Town of Berlin does not have a standing member. There are other municipalities that have standing membership.”

Last fall, town officials told the LDC that Berlin planned to use its casino revenue to pay for LEOPS for its police officers. LDC officials said they didn’t think the town should depend on casino impact grants as the sole source of funding for LEOPS. The LDC approved the town’s fiscal year 2024 -2026 casino revenue spending plan but made it clear that the town should work to decrease the Local Impact Grant (LIG) funding being used to pay for LEOPS over time.

When the LDC convened this month, members were surprised to find that the town had submitted the same information it submitted back in October outlining its plan to spend $436,569 in LIG funds in fiscal year 2023, $418,000 in 2024, $420,000 in 2025 and $420,000 in 2026 for LEOPS.

“They submitted the exact same thing,” LDC member Matt Gordon said. 

Cam Bunting, chair of the LDC, said she thought the town planned to decrease its reliance on LIG funding for LEOPS.

“That was our recommendation,” LDC member Roxanne Rounds said. 

Berlin Fire Company President David Fitzgerald told the LDC the town was planning to use $45,000 in LIG funds, or $15,000 a year for three years, to support EMS apparatus replacement. He pointed out that the numbers shown in the town’s multi-year plan didn’t match the town’s budget.

An LDC member asked how the town was paying for LEOPS if casino revenues fell short of projections.

“That’s where a narrative would have explained that,” LDC member Melanie Pursel said. 

Others said they wanted to see how the town was planning to phase out LIG funding for LEOPS.

“That’s something that definitely has to be looked into,” Bunting said. 

When contacted after the meeting, Tyndall said it was difficult to address the LDC’s questions when the town hadn’t been asked to attend the meeting. He stressed that Berlin’s officials were aware of the LDC concerns regarding phasing LIG funding out for LEOPS.

“The town understands we’re on the hook for the cost of LEOPS,” he said. “If the LIG amount drops we understand the Town of Berlin has to make that cost up.”

This story appears in the May 2, 2024, print edition of the Bayside Gazette.