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Kane board OKs riverboat money for social media connection program

GENEVA – Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen has secured permission to pay for half of his social media community outreach program using riverboat casino funds.

But in coming years, funding for the program might need to come from other sources, and perhaps from tax money, should some members of the Kane County Board have their way.

Tuesday, the County Board voted 16-8 to approve spending $81,000 of the county's allocation of riverboat money to support Lauzen's Kane County Connected program.

The spending item was approved along with about $4.4 million in funding for various county projects out of Kane's riverboat fund for 2014, which is funded by Elgin's Grand Victoria Casino.

In 2014, the county expects to receive about $3.9 million from the riverboat casino. But the County Board expects to dip into a $10 million fund balance that has built up for more than a decade to pay the additional $500,000 for county government projects and $1 million to the external charities.

Some on the board questioned the wisdom of deliberately choosing to spend almost 40 percent more out of the riverboat fund than is expected to be received in annual revenue.

County Board member Mike Donahue, R-Geneva, said he believed the County Board first should discuss establishing policies to govern withdrawals from the riverboat fund balance before simply choosing to spend more of the riverboat money than will be received next year.

Others on the board agreed, but also urged the board to set an example for the rest of the county government by removing funding for Lauzen's social media program.

Launched earlier this summer, Kane County Connected is run by two full-time "outreach coordinators." Lauzen said the program is focused on social media platforms designed to foster connections between various "constituencies" in the county and make the county more inviting for residents and businesses.

The program is expected to cost $161,000 in 2014, and Lauzen asked for half of that to come from riverboat funds.

Some members of the County Board said funding for the program should not come from riverboat funds, but from the regular county budget. Lauzen reacted angrily to the attempt to remove the riverboat funding, challenging board members to declare where the money should come from.

"Would you rather have property taxpayers pay for this? Or riverboat funds?" he said.

Ultimately, the board sided with Lauzen.

But board members appeared to agree that a discussion was needed in coming months over how the county should fund such projects, and how it should spend riverboat funds.

"We need to fund this, and this is a way of doing it," said board member Brian Pollock, D-Aurora. "Why go to taxpayers now, and say we're asking for more?

"But before we do this again next year, we need to have a policy discussion about how we're going to use this money going forward."

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