Kane County ponders life without casino cash

Updated 8/23/2011 5:19 AM
  • When Elgin's Grand Victoria Riverboat Casino launched in 1994, it became a cash cow for Kane County government. In recent years, some of that money has run aground.

    When Elgin's Grand Victoria Riverboat Casino launched in 1994, it became a cash cow for Kane County government. In recent years, some of that money has run aground. Daily Herald file

The amount of riverboat income Kane County receives has plummeted low enough for officials to start considering what they'll do if the longtime multimillion-dollar revenue stream capsizes.

In its heyday, Kane County received about $12 million a year in funds from the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin. When county officials opened the books Monday, they found $5.5 million coming their way.

A county committee already dedicated about $1 million in riverboat money in separate, external requests, which come mainly from local nonprofits. Now it's time to divvy up riverboat dollars for the county's own programs, several of which rely on riverboat funding.

Those include the health department's Kane Kares program to improve infant mortality and the county's drug court programs.

If riverboat revenue continues to come up snake eyes, those programs may be in jeopardy in future years.

The current funding requests from internal programs for 2012 total about $5.6 million, leaving a shortfall of about $100,000. Partially feeding that gap is a request by Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon to use some of the funds to give raises to some of his attorneys and staff.

Most employees in McMahon's office, and on the county payroll in general, haven't seen a raise in about three years. Members of the county board's Riverboat Subcommittee asked McMahon to provide more detail on those raises before signing off on them.

The raises may materialize only if officials find enough riverboat reserves to make up the $100,000 difference.

The return of the county's farmland preservation program also awaits a verdict on how much money is stored in the riverboat piggy bank. The program uses riverboat money and a federal matching grant to buy development rights from local farmers.

The farmers continue to work their land until they are ready to sell. Then the county comes in and ensures the land remains used as a farm. Kane County typically nets the entire federal allotment of farmland preservation money dedicated to Illinois because it is the only county in the state with such a program. Right now, there is no money for Kane County to use as a match for the federal grant dollars.

Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay said the revenue stream is beginning to become too unstable to rely on. She pointed to the state's recent willingness to expand the gambling outlets in Illinois as a cause. Not mentioned was the county board's vote last year to legalize video gambling in Kane County.

"It's been about five years since we've seen this money go up, and yet we're not reducing our reliance on it," McConnaughay said of the riverboat dollars. "These are revenue streams that could dry up tomorrow. If we were suddenly faced with covering an additional $5.5 million in our operating, budget we would be up a creek without a paddle."

The Riverboat Subcommittee will dig through the savings accounts, then call another meeting to lock in the allocations.

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