As COVID-19 takes its toll on day-to-day life, it continues to put a strain on local government budgets. In Riverside, the challenges are especially clear, after a summer of travel restrictions, sheltering in place and social distancing hampered the town’s leading source of tax revenue: The Riverside Casino and Golf Resort.
Riverside’s tax proceeds from the casino for fiscal year 2021 are expected to come in nearly $200,000 lower than the year before, according to a budget estimate from the city. Riverside City Administrator Christine Yancey said that between hotel taxes, gaming taxes and host city arrangements, the casino accounted for roughly 23% of the city’s budget, bringing in around $1.2 million per year in tax revenue, though that number fluctuates based on yearly earnings.
The hotel/motel fourth quarter tax revenue in Riverside’s jurisdiction, for example, fell from over $41,000 in 2019 to under $7,000 in 2020, according to data from the Iowa Department of Revenue. Data on fiscal year 2021 is not yet available, but with the pandemic still in full swing, city staff said the revenue outlook remains grim.
“For the hotel/motel tax, some of that goes into tourism,
and that’s where the home improvement is coming out of,” Riverside City Clerk Becky Laroche said in an interview. “Except for those few grants that we give out, the rest of the funds all go out into street improvements or capital projects.”
LaRoche said the budget shortfalls should mainly affect infrastructure projects, which the city has pursued heavily in recent years.
“We won’t be able to do as many street projects, which, we’ve had very aggressive street projects the last four or five years” she said. “The funding is still there; we’re just not going to be able to do as many street projects as we have in the past before COVID.”
Council members at a budget work session on Monday night, Jan. 11 echoed similar concerns, with the exception of infrastructure spending on repairs to the watermain on Third Street, which they considered a top priority.
The effects of the revenue lull on Riverside’s community center plans, which the council also discussed at the work session, remain unclear. While future funds are up in the air, much of the cash is already on hand. City Administrator Christine Yancey said $100,000 had been set aside per year for the center, with enough saved up to cover the first $1 million of the projected $3-4 million project.
Mayor Allen Schneider said the council should consider all its funding options before deciding whether to pursue the center.
“The city’s got money set aside for this, but there are grant opportunities that I think we need to look into that are going to dictate what the budget is for the project,” he said at the Monday night work session. “I think whether or not we’re willing or interested in a bond referendum for this or some type of funding outside of what we can fit in the budget is something that we need to consider too.”
The next budget work session will come after next week’s regular city council meeting, Monday, Jan. 18 at 6 p.m.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that tax revenue from the casino was projected to be $1 million lower than the previous year. Tax revenue is projected to be $1 million, as opposed to $1.2 million, which is only $200,000 less than the previous year. The online versions of this story have been corrected. The News regrets the error.