PARIS — Oxford County has more than $1 million of Oxford Casino revenue in a bank account.

As of Oct. 31, $1.03 million is being held in a dedicated “casino reserve account” at Androscoggin Bank, according to County Administrator Scott Cole.

Last week, county Commissioners Stephen Merrill, David Duguay and Timothy Turner and the nine-member Budget Committee agreed to earmark $460,000 from the account for property tax relief beginning Jan. 1.

Commissioners approved the move Nov. 17 as part of their review of the proposed $6.7 million budget for 2016, Cole said.

That would leave $576,440 in the account.

Opened in the summer 2012, Oxford Casino on Route 26 in Oxford is seen as the largest economic catalyst in the region, creating jobs and now a new hotel that is slated to open across the road next year.

The county receives 1 percent of all slot revenues from the casino as the host county for “costs resulting from gaming,” and another 1 percent of table games for “gaming-related expenses,“ according to the Maine Gambling Control Board.

The county has received a total of $2.19 million in casino receipts to date. This includes $801,318 in 2013; $726,631 in 2014 and $670,252 in 2015 through Nov. 10, 2015, according to figures provided by Cole. That money held in the bank yields about 2 percent annually or about $250 for each of the past six months.

The total slot and table game income generated in 2014 at Oxford Casino was $6.62 million, according Maine Gambling Control Board numbers.

By comparison, the town of Oxford received almost three times as much casino revenue. In 2014, for example, the town received $1.4 million.

The remainder of the money is distributed statewide, including 46 percent to the Gambling Control Board fund to be distributed, 25 percent to the Department of Education for K-12 essential programs and other smaller percentages to smaller entities statewide, such as agricultural fairs and the Maine Community College system.

It’s big money.

Cole said the county has had at least a $300,000 surplus in the casino account each year after using about $460,000 for tax relief. But, he said, there are reasons why there is so much left in the account.

“The initial casino money of 2012 was never utilized for anything,” Cole said. “That amount exceeded a half million dollars and forms the residual of the current balance.”

The commissioners determined early on that use of the casino money is unrestricted. But they have pursued a policy of using it for property tax relief, Cole said.

Only once, in 2013, did they deviate from that policy by using $184,000 for much-needed cruisers for the Sheriff’s Office.

The county has used $1.28 million in the past three years for tax relief. In 2013, the commissioners approved using $360,000 for tax relief, in 2014 and again in 2015, they approved using $460,000 each year. The county will use $460,000 for property tax relief in 2016. The action was approved during budget review on Nov. 17.

There is some argument to put the excess money to use.

“As an Otisfield selectman, I’d like to see the casino revenue be used to offset the county taxes to our residents but there’s another side to this issue,” Oxford County Budget Committee Chairman Rick Micklon said. He represents commission District 3, along with Dennis Henderson of West Paris and Lee Holman of Hartford.

As a budget committee member, Micklon said he would support using some of the revenue for existing and future county needs.

“I support using these casino revenues for the greater shortfall or necessity,” Micklon said. “The state has put our towns and counties in a dangerous financial situation with unfunded mandates and consistently changing loss of revenues. Roads, jails, schools, revenue-sharing, property valuations – taxpayers and public officials are being stressed at every turn.”

Cole said the excess casino revenue is being undermined by the deficit the county jail program has been running since July.

Although not budgeted, the casino money is what’s carrying the deficit on paper for the moment and pending state action that could return Oxford County Jail to a full-service facility might further jeopardize that reserve.

Since the jails were consolidated statewide about seven years ago, the jail program costs were capped at $1.2 million, below the true cost of the Oxford County Jail program, Cole said. The remainder was made up by the state and by reducing program costs locally. The system worked well for Oxford County, but the state is no longer kicking in its share and the cap remains, which means the remainder cannot be raised through taxation, he said.

Officials have said the proposed jail plan could mean raising local costs to $2.6 million a year, which would mean a hike in taxpayers’ bills. The additional costs would largely come from hiring more corrections officers, medical and food services and housing additional inmates.

Depending on the outcome of the pending legislation, it’s an issue that may come back to threaten the unused casino money.

“It can be taken away by the strike of a pen or a vote of the Legislature,” Micklon said. “It’s not fair.”

While county officials await the outcome, the commissioners are slated to meet again Tuesday, Dec. 15, to approve the 2016 budget.

In addition to Micklon, Henderson and Holman in District 3, the Budget Committee is represented in District 1 by Fred Henderson of Greenwood, Russell Newcomb of Norway and Jeffrey Cox of Fryeburg. District 2 is represented by Les Flanders of Lincoln Plantation, Bradford Adley of Rumford and Jane Rich of Andover.

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