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Lawmakers say support not there

February 14, 1998

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - Asked recently about the public interest in a new minor league baseball stadium for the Hagerstown Suns, Del. Robert A. McKee picked up a small stack of letters on his desk.

Most of them were form letters are from people who want more youth soccer fields to be part of a stadium complex.

"They want soccer fields. I guess you could say they hitched their wagon to the stadium in hopes of getting the soccer fields," said McKee, a Republican who represents the western part of Washington County.

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That, say some lawmakers, has been a chief problem with the stadium plan since it was first proposed two years ago: A lack of strong, widespread public support to provide enough political leverage to secure local and state funding for the $10 million project.

"My guess is over the past two years I've probably gotten somewhere around 20 people contacting me in support of it," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

More people have told him to oppose public funding for the plan, especially at a time when the county has a $55 million water and sewer debt, he said.

"I think people are saying, 'We don't have the money to solve the water and sewer problem. How can we build a stadium?'" Munson said.

Munson said he is not a supporter of state money going into the stadium, pointing out that such a position is consistent with his opposition of state funding for the Baltimore Ravens' stadium. But as a member of the powerful Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, he also said he would not stand in the way if those dollars were provided in Gov. Parris N. Glendening's budget.

But lawmakers and Glendening have repeatedly said there would have to be a broad base of local support for the project, including funding from both the city of Hagerstown and Washington County, for the project to receive at least part of the requested $4.4 million in state money.

The county dropped out of the project last Tuesday when the County Commissioners voted not to provide funding - a move many considered a fatal blow to the project.

County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said he received about 50 telephone calls in the days following the vote, with about three out of four supporting the commissioners' decision.

He said people felt there are more important places to spend taxpayer money, such as education and the water and sewer problem.

"We just needed to prioritize," Snook said.

Even a supporter of the stadium plan, Hagerstown City Councilman William M. Breichner, said he hasn't seen a large outcry for the stadium.

"Certainly, there is not a rally of people marching on City Hall or the (County) Courthouse demanding this," Breichner said.

But Breichner pointed out that should not be used to measure whether the project is worthy. Other local projects, like the Hagerstown Ice & Sports Complex, were approved without rallies and petitions, he said.

Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, said he too hasn't heard the widespread support for the stadium. But like other communities, whose criticism of public stadium funding was later replaced by mourning after their teams moved, the real public outcry could come later, Poole said.

"If the Suns leave, we will feel like we suffered a loss," Poole said.

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