Hancock budget gets close eye

NEW CUMBERLAND – A drop in anticipated gaming revenue means that Hancock County will have to keep a tight rein on its budget for the coming fiscal year, commissioners said.

On Thursday, the Hancock County Commission approved a $9.9 million operating budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which starts July 1.

“It’s a flat budget,” Commissioner Mike Swartzmiller said, meaning there’s little change from the current fiscal year. “We have to proceed with caution.”

Commissioners said anticipated revenue from limited video lottery for the coming fiscal year is $2.9 million – down from a high of $5.2 million in 2007. Anticipated income from table gaming is $430,000 – down from $500,000 two years ago.

The new Hancock County budget also reflects an anticipated drop in revenue from the 6 percent hotel occupancy tax – from a high of $465,000 in 2009 to $200,000 in the coming year. The county is suing Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort over the issue, saying it’s being cheated out of tens of thousands of dollars from Mountaineer’s practice of not collecting the occupancy tax on complimentary rooms.

Despite the lean outlook, Swartzmiller was sanguine about the county’s financial picture when addressing the issue at Thursday’s regular meeting.

“Hancock County is still in great financial shape,” he said. “I’m really pleased with the budget and the way it turned out.”

Commissioners projected expenditures in the amount of $10.2 million for the coming year, meaning the budget was $300,000 in the red.

“You have to turn in a balanced budget,” Swartzmiller said. “We had to do some cutting and refiguring of some line items.”

None of the cuts involve layoffs, but county employees won’t be getting raises this year either, Swartzmiller said.

“We didn’t cut any personnel or services. We didn’t put any additional burdens on our employees,” he said.

Hancock County pays 100 percent of its employees’ health insurance premiums. Those hired after July 1, 2008, contribute 20 percent, said Cindy Jones, county administrative assistant for finance.

The county ensured it was submitting a balanced budget to Charleston by cutting things such as overtime and certain project requests from department heads, Jones said. The deadline for county budget submissions is today, but the budgets can be revised until July 30.

Swartzmiller said commissioners did not want to dip into the rainy day fund or long-term capital improvement fund to balance the budget.

“That would be like taking your kid’s college fund and using it to buy a pickup truck,” he said.

Swartzmiller said commissioners did not use general operating money for a series of recent large real estate purchases – Newell Memorial Field, the old Jimmy Carey Stadium in Weirton and the New Cumberland Dollar General store. Those purchases were made from the long-term capital improvement fund, he said.