Lebanon, Warren County spar over $3 million in state funds

State threatens to hold on to money if sides can’t agree on racetrack redevelopment funds

State officials say Warren County and the city of Lebanon could lose up to $3 million unless officials set aside differences over control of the racetrack redevelopment funding process.

“What I’m looking for is agreement between the county and the city,” David Goodman, director of the Ohio Department of Development Services Agency, said Thursday during a special meeting in Columbus. “We have the ability to say — unless you guys agree — we’re just going to hold on to this.”

Goodman’s agency is handling distribution of as much as $12 million set aside for Ohio cities left without racetracks since the legalization of racinos in the state.

Lebanon — and Warren County — qualified when Miami Valley Gaming opened Dec. 12. Last week, Toledo became the second city to qualify for a $3 million share when Hollywood Gaming at Dayton Raceway opened.

Grove City, south of Columbus, is expected to qualify for a share when Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley opens Sept. 17. North Randall, outside of Cleveland, would qualify if ThistleDown racino were to relocate.

Last week, Goodman and state officials, including Sen. Shannon Jones, R-Clearcreek Twp., met with Warren County officials. No Lebanon officials attended the Columbus meeting.

The county officials appealed to the state after state guidelines on racetrack redevelopment funds prompted Lebanon officials to take control of the local process.

The city has proposed a committee structure and developed a process for rating proposals for redevelopment on the county fairgrounds — the former racetrack site — and within a mile of the fairgrounds north of downtown Lebanon.

Ohio Development Services Agency spokesperson Stephanie Gostomski said Friday the agency’s meeting with local officials was “productive.”

“We will continue to work with all parties involved to make sure taxpayer dollars are spent properly. Other cities, including Toledo, are working on setting up their committees and designated areas for development. We look forward to reviewing their proposals as well,” Gostomski wrote in an email.

Warren County Administrator Dave Gully said Friday he expected to meet with Lebanon City Manager Pat Clements to work out the state funds split.

“We’re awaiting a response from the county regarding our committee proposal,” Clements wrote in an email.

Miami Valley Gaming operators also committed $3 million to redevelopment of the fairgrounds where Lebanon Raceway operated for more than 50 years before moving to the new facility in Turtlecreek Twp.

During Thursday’s meeting, county officials claimed the county stood to lose more than the city, thus should be allowed to control the process. Officials added that improvements to the fairgrounds would also be a boost for the city.

Goodman said his office would put the process on hold while considering the county’s appeal.

“Let’s take a step back,” he said. “Let’s clarify these things.”

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