Cumberland Times-News

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December 19, 2013

Slots revenue plan receives approval

Commissioners OK agreement that could add hundreds of thousands of dollars to scholarships

CUMBERLAND — Allegany County commissioners on Thursday approved a plan that could add hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to scholarship funds for students at Allegany College of Maryland and Frostburg State University.

The Allegany College of Maryland Foundation has considerable assets of its own.

The ACM foundation has net assets of more than $10 million and awarded $563,783 in scholarships for the fiscal year ending June 30, according to the foundation’s Winter 2013-14 newsletter. Contributions to the foundation for that time period were $799,809. The endowed funds of the foundation are about $9.1 million. The assets are primarily spent on student scholarships.

Students at ACM have an unmet need of more than $11 million annually, according to Cynthia Bambara, ACM president, who spoke at the meeting.

“We are most grateful for your vision,” Bambara said. “I assure you that we will be good stewards of these funds.”

According to an agreement signed with commissioners, 90 percent of each year’s funding for the county scholarship, which will be held in an Allegany County Opportunity Scholarship Fund, must be delved out to students. The remainder could be used to re-invest in the fund. The agreement is for five years and is renewable. The county government will have no say in the award of the scholarships, said County Administrator David Eberly.

“This is the best possible use of these funds,” said County Commissioner Bill Valentine. Valentine told Rocky Gap Casino & Resort general manager Scott Just that the county owed the company “a ton of thanks” for locating in Allegany County.

The structure and management of the Frostburg State University Foundation is different, with assets being pooled with those of other state universities and money being awarded to a number of university programs, according to the foundation’s 2012 annual report. It offered students more than $500,000 in scholarships for the reporting period.

“This is an incredibly forward thinking plan,” said Jonathan Gibralter, FSU president. Gibralter said he hopes the scholarship becomes a national model.

The amount of money projected to go into county coffers from the slots operations is $700,000 for the current fiscal year, county officials said.

Commissioners voted to divide the scholarship money with 45 percent going to the ACM Foundation and 25 percent to the FSU Foundation.

Other funds from the Rocky Gap Casino & Resort’s slots operations will be distributed as follows: 10 percent each going to Allegany County fire and rescue departments and capital projects for the board of education. The remaining 10 percent would be used for Allegany County pay as you go funds for specific projects, which will help lessen the need to borrow funds in the future, the commissioners said. The funds will be disbursed quarterly, according to the proposal, except that the board of education funds will be on a reimbursement basis for capital projects.

The money for the fire and rescue companies and the board of education could help make up for declining revenues from county paper gaming operations. Those revenues have fallen off for years, long before the casino opened. The board and fire and rescue companies are the main beneficiaries of county paper gaming revenues.

County Finance Director Jason Bennett discussed the paper gaming revenue Thursday. Revenue for the 2013 fiscal year from paper gaming at clubs, taverns and other venues was projected at $419,000. The actual revenue turned out to be $373,000, Bennett said. “This is a continuing trend for us,” Bennett said.

Slots funding going to the various organizations will be based on revenue and a certain amount is not guaranteed, commissioners said. The county signed a formal memorandum of understanding with the two foundations Thursday, allowing them to decide how to distribute the scholarship money.

The action took place at the commission’s regular Thursday business meeting.

In other news from the meeting, a Holiday Inn Express is being planned in the LaVale area. County Attorney Bill Rudd mentioned the plan in relation to a road opening petition. No further details were available Thursday.

The county commission meeting took place at the County Office Complex at 701 Kelly Road.

Matthew Bieniek can be contacted at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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