Competition for Kane County riverboat cash intensifies
With state funding for social services in budget limbo, and dwindling profits for the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin, competition for Kane County grants funded with gambling proceeds is extra tight this year.
Kane County Board members have committed to weaning county programs and operations off the gambling revenue for several years. But the latest round of funding choices show future cuts will mean the end of some county programs unless they can find new cash streams. The county's court system is particularly reliant on the grant funds. Four of the top five internal funding requests are related to programs such as drug and domestic violence prosecutions. Those are generally viewed as programs that save money in the long run by providing offenders with a more intense rehabilitation regiment than simply sitting in a jail cell at direct cost to taxpayers.
But the fifth largest internally funded program, farmland preservation, was already asked to scale back this year to allow for full funding of the justice system. Farmland preservation leverages federal dollars to buy the land rights to local farms when they become available. The county has preserved about 5,000 acres of farmland through the program.
The Fit for Kids program, the centerpiece of the county's community wellness initiatives, was also cut. So was money to demolish vacant properties that have blighted neighborhoods throughout the foreclosure crisis, and cash for county employee tuition reimbursement.
Next up is a wave of requests from local social service agencies, schools and municipalities. The county frequently receives more requests than it can fund, but this year the cash available for external grants will be less than $1 million for the first time. More than 50 outside agencies, including a number of local taxing bodies, are lining up for a piece of the gambling funds. The total amount of the requests is more than double the budget for exterior grants.
Indeed, if the county board decides to give full funding to just the top 10 largest requests, there will be virtually no money left for any of the other projects.
In part, that's because the amount of the individual requests is larger than the county board has seen in recent years. Last year, the county board did not give a single outside agency a grant worth six figures. This year, the top five most expensive projects all want $100,000.
All told, the county will fund about $4.78 million of internal and external grants with gambling money next year. That's down from about $5.3 million in the current year. Next year, barring a sudden turnaround in proceeds from the Grand Victoria, the total will decrease by a similar amount. There is an overall goal to reduce the grants by 8.2 percent.
The reserve funds in the grant program will also continue to dry up. Right now, the reserve fund for riverboat gambling funds is set to close the 2015 fiscal year with a seemingly healthy $6.68 million in the bank. That looks like a big number. However, in the local riverboat gambling heyday, the county received about $12 million a year from the Grand Victoria for the grant program. County officials have pointed to a slow economy as well as the introduction of more casinos and video gambling as the reasons for the program's decline.
The county board's riverboat grant task force meets Tuesday to determine the external grants. The full county board must still approve the grant lists before money is disbursed.
Kane County cuts up its piece of the riverboat gambling pie between internal and external requests. Internal requests -- used to fund county programs and departments -- get the most cash. Local social service agencies -- school districts and municipalities -- compete for the remaining budget.
Top 5 internal grant requests:1. Juvenile Justice Center -- $805,998 for repayment of construction bond
2. Drug court -- $538,460 for operations cost
3. Child advocacy center -- $482,000 for operations cost
4. Domestic violence -- $477,462 for prosecution costs and enforcement of protection orders
5. Farmland preservation program -- $300,000 for federal matching grants
Top 10 external grant requests:1. Aurora Interfaith Food Pantry -- $100,000 for a parking lot expansion
1. Northern Illinois Food Bank -- $100,000 for a new tractor
1. St. Charles Rowing Club -- $100,000 for construction of a dock in the Fox River Bluff East forest preserve
1. University of Illinois Extension -- $100,000 for community education programs like 4-H
1. Wayside Cross Ministries (Aurora) -- $100,000 for a retaining wall and computer equipment
6. East Aurora District 131 -- $99,095 for purchase of band instruments
7. D300 Foundation -- $89,846 for purchase of band instruments
8. Elgin History Museum -- $70,000 for structural stabilization of the historic Kimball House
9. Illinois Math and Science Academy -- $62,500 for construction of an innovation hub for STEM and entrepreneurship
10. St. Charles Heritage Center -- $60,000 for remodeling and computer upgrades
SOURCE: Kane County