EDITORIAL: The best bet for casino revenue
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. is steering the city's casino tax revenues back in the right direction -- toward infrastructure.
McDermott said he will not approve any requests from City Council members for other uses of the city's casino revenues.
The city's College Bound scholarship program should be considered an infrastructure need, although that, too, should be gradually weaned off casino revenues so it becomes self-supporting.
The big impact of McDermott's decision will be to stop councilmen from using part of their share of the casino money to pay for the Henry Unit, which provides overtime pay for police patrols. The effect of this practice has been to shift control of the police department to the council as well as to the mayor.
It's often called the Golden Rule -- he who has the gold rules. And with the councilmen paying for police protection, they influence how it's spent.
It's time for a basic lesson in government. The mayor is head of the executive branch, while the council is the legislative branch. And police protection is an executive responsibility.
"We are allowing the police department to make deals with the councilmen, and that's not going to happen any more," McDermott said.
For now, at least, the councilmen may opt to pool their resources for the Henry Unit but not direct its operations. Leave that to the police brass, who are more than capable of making those decisions and have the information they need to do so for maximum impact.
But realize, as McDermott does, that casino money is not a reliable funding source for day-to-day operations. McDermott notes the city's casino revenue has dropped to about $30 million, from $40 million a year in 2009 and 2010. The recession and increased competition are having a big impact.
That $30 million is still a lot of money, and putting it to use in addressing the city's infrastructure needs means the city is in better shape because of the Horseshoe Casino. But ultimately the city has to refrain from relying heavily on casino money. Cash cows can be milked dry.
Or, as McDermott puts it, "We can't just throw gaming money at every problem we have."
This is a good lesson for other host communities as well. Spend that money on immediate capital needs that will have long-term impact rather than relying on it for day-to-day operations.