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Stadium site, new funding plan proposed

December 07, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

The Washington County Commissioners Tuesday heard a new stadium proposal they were told would cost the county less than an earlier plan, and learned supporters have a prospective location.

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The County Commissioners will vote on the proposal next Tuesday, Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said.

Dick Phoebus, chairman of a Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce stadium committee, said he is talking with CSX Corp. about buying approximately 40 acres it owns along Wesel Boulevard, about 1/2 mile from Burhans Boulevard near the old roundhouse. The asking price for the land, which is in the city limits, is about $1.2 million but a lower price might be negotiated, he said.

Like an earlier proposal, this plan asks the county for a $3 million commitment, but suggests part of that money could come from motel-hotel tax proceeds.

A 20-year, $3 million bond would cost the county about $216,000 a year, said Phoebus. He said a Washington County Visitors and Convention Bureau recommendation could decrease the county's obligation.

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The Visitors and Convention Bureau voted to recommend hiking the county motel-hotel tax from 3 cents to 5 cents, with one cent of the two-cent increase, or about $160,000 a year, used for a stadium, Phoebus said.

The county could pay the remaining $56,000 a year, but that number would drop if hotel tax proceeds increase over time, he said.

Proceeds from the other cent of the tax hike would be shared equally between the bureau and the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Agency, under the board's motion. All such proceeds currently go to the privatized bureau.

A change in the hotel tax would require Maryland General Assembly approval, County Attorney Richard Douglas said.

Hotel tax proceeds increased from $404,824 in fiscal 1998 to $461,789 in fiscal 1999.

The County Commissioners did not comment on the tax idea, which they were hearing officially for the first time. Snook said he needed time to digest the idea.

The Hagerstown Suns would be the primary tenant of the complex, and the baseball field would have space for youth soccer fields in the outfield. The Roundhouse Museum would be at the site.

Four of five Hagerstown City Council members voted last month to contribute $3 million to the Hagerstown Roundhouse Sports Complex.

The city vote was conditional on commitments of $3 million from the county, $6 million from the state and $3 million from private sources and a 15-year lease with the Suns.

Phoebus said the commissioners could make a commitment conditional on stadium supporters getting pledges from private sources, he said.

"Give us a chance. Give us a number to match and put the monkey on our back," he said.

If private funds fall short, then it would be stadium supporters who have failed, not the County Commissioners, he said.

Under the proposal, the City of Hagerstown's costs for the complex might drop below what it pays on average for the existing Municipal Stadium.

For about 15 years the city has paid an annual average of $109,000 for capital expenses and about $66,000 for operating expenses, Snook said.

The city would not incur those costs under the new proposal, according to the report.

Under the proposal, the city would get back about $100,000 a year in stadium proceeds, reducing its annual commitment to about $116,000.

County Commissioner Paul L. Swartz has repeatedly promised to vote for taxpayer spending for the stadium while Commissioner William J. Wivell has long stated his opposition to taxpayer funding of the stadium.

Wivell is an accountant with Allegheny Energy, which may pay $1 million for stadium naming rights.

Commissioner John L. Schnebly said last month he probably will vote against the proposal.

Snook and Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger have said they don't know how they will vote. Snook voted against a different stadium proposal in February 1998.

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