Competition for Kane County riverboat cash intensifies

  • Elgin's Grand Victoria Casino provides many groups with needed funds each year, but the grants distributed by Kane County have decreased the last several years. In 2015 the county doled out $5.3 million for programs. Next year, that will decrease to $4.78 million.

    Elgin's Grand Victoria Casino provides many groups with needed funds each year, but the grants distributed by Kane County have decreased the last several years. In 2015 the county doled out $5.3 million for programs. Next year, that will decrease to $4.78 million. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • The Grand Victoria Casino on the Fox River in downtown Elgin.

    The Grand Victoria Casino on the Fox River in downtown Elgin. Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 9/1/2015 11:26 AM

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.

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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.

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