EDITORIAL: Find new funding for scholarships

2013-04-17T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Find new funding for scholarships nwitimes.com
April 17, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Hammond City Councilman Anthony Higgs is sort of right, but mostly wrong, to try to cut off casino funding for College Bound.

A host city's casino revenue should generally be used to fund infrastructure work. That allows cities to catch up on work that has been delayed over the years because of a dwindling tax base.

But College Bound is an exception.

College Bound, which is now in its seventh year, was launched to provide college scholarships to students of Hammond homeowners who meet certain eligibility requirements. The idea was to offer an incentive for families to live in Hammond.

The program is a success. Hammond is now the largest city in Lake County, according to the 2010 census, in part because College Bound helped slow the population losses.

"I don't know how many years we are planning on funding College Bound, but at some point, it has to come to a halt," Higgs said at a council meeting last week.

College Bound was created with a 10-year expiration date. It needs to be extended.

Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said the city might explore using the proceeds from the sale of water through the city's utility to fund College Bound. It's a smart move. Hammond has long-term contracts with other municipalities for water, which would provide a stable revenue source for the scholarships.

Higgs is right that funding College Bound with at least $2.5 million in casino money is an issue, but that's because the casino revenue is less stable.

The casino market is saturated, analysts say, yet there is talk of opening competing casinos in Illinois. That could affect not just Horseshoe's revenue, but also Hammond's.

The City Council is looking at other uses for casino money, including additional funds to provide financial incentives for early retirement.

Regardless of the merits of that use of casino money, College Bound is a Hammond success story. 

Find another funding source, like city water revenue, before eliminating casino revenue for the program. Hammond needs to retain families, and the college scholarship program is a key way of doing so.

Then use the casino money for one-time costs, like infrastructure projects, rather than for operating expenses.

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