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Stadium's legislative deadline looming

November 08, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

The Washington County Commissioners and Hagerstown City Council must vote to provide funds for a new baseball stadium before the next General Assembly session if there is to be any chance state money for the project will be available in the next fiscal year, stadium supporters say.

Although there is no guarantee on the outcome of such a vote, elected officials from both bodies say they probably will vote on the matter.

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Hagerstown Suns officials, who would be the primary tenants of a new stadium, said the real test will be whether city and county officials back the plan, not whether a funding request gets to the state level this year.

City and county support of a stadium funding plan is seen as a prerequisite for state funding.

Those promoting the latest stadium plan, a $12 million to $15 million railroad museum/sports complex, want to secure state funds for the project in the upcoming legislative session.

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"I think it's very important to get to (the legislature) this year because we don't know what it will be like next year," said Dick Phoebus, chairman of a Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce committee that developed the stadium proposal.

The Suns might not be willing to wait another year, and county and state priorities could change by then, Phoebus said.

County Commissioner Paul L. Swartz and Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II, who have both supported building a new stadium, agreed with Phoebus.

"The deadline is the end of December. All this has to get to the delegation before the session begins," Swartz said.

The legislative session begins Jan. 12, 2000.

Bruchey said it will take at least two weeks for the city finance department to review the stadium proposal and look for ways to pay for the city's portion of the project. The council could then vote on the matter.

Swartz said he wants Phoebus to review the stadium funding plan with the commissioners again within the next few weeks before they vote on the proposal.

Under the railroad museum/sports complex proposal Phoebus presented in recent weeks to the County Commissioners and Mayor and City Council, the project would be paid for with $3 million from the city, $3 million from the county and $6 million from the state. Another $3 million is to come from private contributions.

The consensus among supporters of a new stadium is that the Hagerstown Suns won't wait another year to see if they'll get a new stadium.

But Suns General Manager David Blenckstone said getting the commissioners and City Council behind the project is important.

"If the city and county back it but it doesn't get through the state, then that's light at the end of the tunnel," Blenckstone said.

"We've been going on like this for four years now ... We can take no for an answer. We can handle that. But we haven't been given any answer," Blenckstone said.

If local elected officials turn down the most recent proposal, "our focus would change from trying to stay to trying to move," Blenckstone said.

"Now is the time. If it doesn't happen now I don't see any reason why it would happen later," he said.

If the City Council and County Commissioners back the stadium funding plan, there would be three ways to go about getting state funds, said Michelle Byrnie, a spokesperson for Gov. Parris Glendening.

Byrnie said stadium supporters could ask the governor to put the funding into his initial budget. Such a request should have been made in October, however, she said.

The money could be included in a bond bill. Such a request could be made until January, Byrnie said.

Or the money could be included in a supplemental budget request, which is done during the session, she said.

"There are no hard and fast deadlines (for supplemental budget requests), but the sooner the better," Byrnie said.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said the local delegation might be asked to support the project, but Glendening would be the one asked to direct state funding toward the stadium project.

"I think they would have to go to the governor first," Munson said. "In general in the past, stadiums have gone through the governor's office."

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