In order to help offset budget woes, this past summer the City of Harrisburg applied for a Dauphin County Local Share Municipal Gaming Grant.
Asking for at least $2 million, the City aimed to secure the funds in order to prevent the layoff of public safety officers in 2012. In its application to the Dauphin County Gaming Advisory Board, the City asserted that because of structural deficits, if it did not receive the grant, then 12 police officers and 11 fire fighters would be cut.
The City was one of 76 original applications presented to the Advisory Board. In all, the applicants requested $23 million drawing on a pool of $6-7 million. For five and a half months, the Dauphin County Gaming Advisory Board along with its well-paid consultant Mike Musser collected, reviewed, interviewed, and pondered who should get Gaming Grants. Per the PA Gaming Act, it’s this advisory board that is in charge of undertaking the process of recommending how the Commissioners should distribute the share of revenue the County receives from Hollywood Casino. The State sets the general parameters for allocating this pool of “restricted” gaming funds and the Advisory Board sets the criteria. Eligible projects have to fall into at least one of the following categories: Human Services, Infrastructure Improvements, Facilities, Emergency Services, Health, and Public Safety.
Next Wednesday, February 22nd, the 5-member Gaming Advisory Board will present its recommendations to the Commissioners. Yesterday, the 16th, the Board voted on the list it will give them.
Twenty-three projects made the list for a total of $6,904,711. The projects include various municipal public safety plans, infrastructure endeavors, an ongoing HACC project, Harrisburg River Rescue, and the American Red Cross. Aside from the 23 recommended grant approvals, another 18 projects are being recommended for “Optional Funding.” What this means is that the Advisory Board is recommending that Dauphin County Commissioners take some money from another pool of gaming money—the “unrestricted” fund (which can be spent utterly at the Commissioners’ discretion, no process necessarily necessary for allocation)—and give it to these 18 projects which include $30,000 to the Dauphin County General Authority for money to remove asbestos in the Dauphin Highlands Golf Course Clubhouse; $60,000 to the Capital Area Greenbelt; $100,000 to the Harristown Development Corporation; $125,000 to CREDC; $150,000 to the YMCA; $32,000 to the Jewish Federation; and $335,000 to the Harrisburg Bureau of Fire for Tower 4 and Engine 5.
While the City of Harrisburg’s fire department is being recommended for consideration, the City of Harrisburg itself is not. In fact, the City of Harrisburg is last on the “Not Funded” list of recommendations.
The fact that the City is last on the list is significant. The merits of each application are weighed on a point system as outlined by Dauphin County Gaming Advisory Board. Of the 13 projects denied recommendation, Harrisburg is number 13. So even if the Commissioners consider bumping a project off of the “Not Funded” list onto the “Funded” list, it probably won’t be the City since it received such a low evaluation. Not only does the City’s position on the list let it know it has a long way to get bumped up to funding, it also let’s the City know that its rating is probably too low to even be considered next year should the City try again.
As the Mayor has repeatedly declared in accordance with her Act 47 Plan, the City’s intent was to apply every year until 2016 for $2 million annually.
Yesterday, after the barely 14-minute Gaming Advisory Board meeting adjourned, attorney Mark Stewart of Eckert Seamans, who is counsel to the Dauphin County Gaming Advisory Board, explained that the City of Harrisburg received such a low score and is not being recommended for funding because its request wasn’t really a project, but rather a request to fill a hole in the City’s operating budget. “The City’s application just didn’t really fit the definition as outlined in the Act. Gaming grants aren’t supposed to subsidize budgets,” Stewart stated.
Nothing is awarded, though, until the Dauphin County Commissioners vote on the recommendations the Advisory Board will put before them next week. Even if Harrisburg remains on the “Not Funded” list for these restricted gaming funds, perhaps the City’s Receiver David Unkovic will eventually succeed in negotiating with the Commissioners in order secure some money from the unrestricted pool for the ailing City, especially for the sake of public safety.
Other projects on the recommended “Not Funded” List include: Lykens Fire; the Dauphin County Fire Chiefs Association; Civil War Museum; Heinz Menaker Senior Center; and the Whitaker Center.
Written in collaboration with Roxbury News
Videos from the February 16, 2012 Dauphin County Gaming Advisory Board Meeting (vote on list of recommendations for awarding Local Share Municipal Gaming Grants):