Warren County officials want to be back in the driver’s seat when it comes time to split up to $12 million in state funds set aside for redevelopment of communities left without racetracks after the legalization of racinos in Ohio.
Warren County was leading efforts to collect the local share — due since Lebanon Raceway moved its operation to the Miami Valley Gaming racino in neighboring Turtlecreek Twp. — until the Ohio Development Services Agency issued regulations putting Lebanon in charge.
“It seemed like we were in the driver’s seat on the $3 million. Now we’re not,” Warren County Commissioner Dave Young said. “It shouldn’t just benefit the city of Lebanon.”
For cities losing a racetrack, Ohio lawmakers set aside up to $3 million from fees paid by companies operating Ohio’s four racinos, featuring gambling on horse racing and electronic slot machines.
Toledo is in line for its share, having lost its track to Dayton, where Hollywood Gaming at Dayton Raceway is to open later this year.
Grove City, south of Columbus, will qualify when a racino reopens outside Youngstown. North Randall, east of Cleveland, also stands to collect a share, if the ThistleDown Racino leaves town.
The law establishing the Racetrack Relocation Fund says the money “shall be used for repurposing or demolishing of an abandoned horse-racing facility or reinvestment in the area, neighborhood, and community near an abandoned facility, and for the costs of administering this program.”
“Due to the apparent lack of progress in identifying a workable project for the site, a meeting with Commissioner (Pat) South and the county administrator was requested in order to discuss the city’s concerns,” Lebanon City Manager Pat Clements said in a May 2 memo to Lebanon City Council.
Young raised objections on June 24 during a briefing on progress by the county-led process. The county needs to hire a contractor for $30,000 to gauge electrical problems at the fairgrounds and expects to spend about $300,000 demoishing the grandstands.
Last week, Lebanon Mayor Amy Brewer declined comment, indicating she was unaware of the county’s objections. Clements was on vacation and didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Young also appealed to State Sen. Shannon Jones, R-Clearcreek Twp.
Of the four racetracks, only Lebanon’s is publicly held. For 60 years, the Lebanon Raceway operated from the Warren County Fairgrounds.
“Every taxpayer of Warren County owns those fairgrounds,” Young said, noting the local track was going to be excluded from the state funding until Jones interceded.
“I fought really hard in keeping them in the mix,” Jones said Friday. “The purpose of the fund was to try to make communities whole for losing a racetrack.”
Warren County’s case was harder to make because the track remained in the county, Jones added.
Rather than focus on the fiscal agent designation, Jones said she hoped city the and county would work together.
“I want to make sure the taxpayer owned asset of the fairgrounds is considered,” she said. “I hope parties work together and that facility is taken care of.”
While the county is focused on the fairgrounds, on the north side of downtown Lebanon, the city is including projects within a mile of the former track expected to cover or increase revenues the city collected when the racetrack operated in Lebanon.
Young said Lebanon stood to gain more if it joined the county’s plan for development of an exposition and equestrian center.
Commissioner Pat South noted the county might find itself faced with no money for redevelopment of the fairgrounds, except for $3 million the racino operators agreed to donate as part of a series of agreements splitting $16 million in property taxes from the development, leased by the county to the operators.
The county and city are expected to collaborate in deciding which projects should be proposed for the funding.
“We’re assuming that will be a collective set of ideas,” said Stephanie Gostomski, spokesperson for the Ohio Development Services Agency.
The state is ready to consider Young’s appeal and review the new policies, Gostomski said.
“The Warren County commissioners have not reached out to the state,” she said last week. “Right now, it sounds like it’s a local conversation.”
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