VALPARAISO | Don't bet that Porter County officials aren't glad to have casino gambling in Northwest Indiana.
Valparaiso receives about $170,000 a year under the revenue-sharing plan ordered by the Indiana General Assembly about eight years ago that spreads a share of the cash from Northwest Indiana's casinos among all communities. Porter County shares in it despite defeating a referendum to allow a riverboat in the county.
For Valparaiso, the funds represent less than 1 percent of its total budget, but it has proved handy for emergencies, Clerk-Treasurer Sharon Swihart said. The council approved spending $93,000 from this year's casino cash last week with $75,000 to be used for the final payment on a three-year $290,000 comprehensive plan study.
The casino money paid for the entire study, which included a plan for improving the U.S. 30 corridor. It also paid for the study of the city's compliance with requirements of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
Even with those expenditures, the city will have about $800,000 in casino revenue available after it receives this year's allotment. Valparaiso also has about $655,000 in cigarette tax revenue saved. Swihart said the city used to get about $90,000 from the tax a year but fewer smokers has reduced it to about $78,700.
Swihart said the cumulative sewer fund is another potential source for emergencies involving stormwater or sanitary sewer repairs, curb and gutter work. It currently has $1.3 million in it.
"Those, with the rainy day fund (about $3.7 million), are the emergency pots," she said. "We are really pleased we have them. In government, $1 million can go really fast on a major street or sewer repair."
"We get into it for the bigger projects we don't typically budget for in our operating budget," City Administrator Bill Oeding said of the casino and cigarette revenue. "We are not rushing to spend every penny. We don't want to use it as operational funds if we can avoid it, and we've been lucky to avoid that."
The funding came in handy in fall 2008 when a collapsing sewer created a sinkhole on Horseprairie Avenue that almost swallowed a city firetruck. Oeding said it might be used for the 15- to 20-year strategic plan Mayor Jon Costas plans to develop next year with residents' input.
"We are putting together the (requests for proposals from consultants), and it won't be cheap," Oeding said. "We probably will look to the riverboat fund or other fund to pay for it.
"There's always something we say, if we had the technology or the tools, we would do it. We do the research, talk to them, put prices together and then look for funding opportunities with grants, the cigarette or riverboat funds to make something happen.
"Our department heads are fairly conservative and try to balance the wish list with the money that is available," he said. "And so far we've been fairly successful."