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Most of council OK with county stadium funding plan

December 14, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

A majority of Hagerstown City Council members said Tuesday they probably would back a plan to fund construction of a stadium and railroad museum complex, which was approved by the Washington County Commissioners earlier in the day.

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City Councilman J. Wallace McClure, the only council member who said he was unhappy with the commissioners' decision, promised to petition to referendum a council decision to spend money on a new stadium.

"If it's such a great idea (the public) will pass it," McClure said.

Council members Susan Saum-Wicklein, William M. Breichner and Alfred W. Boyer said they probably would support the plan approved by the commissioners in a 3-2 vote Tuesday morning.

The plan calls for the city to borrow $6 million for the project, which is being called the Hagerstown Roundhouse and Sports Complex. To help pay off the loan, the commissioners will seek a 2 percent increase to the county hotel-motel tax. The money from the tax increase would pay the debt service on $3 million of the city's loan, and would be counted as the county government's contribution to the project. An increase to the hotel-motel tax would have to be approved by the state.

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Saum-Wicklein said she would want assurances from the county that the additional money from a hotel-motel tax hike would go toward paying $3 million of the debt.

Boyer, a supporter of a new stadium and past co-chairman of a stadium task force, said he wanted similar assurances from the commissioners.

Boyer said he would support the plan only if he was sure borrowing $6 million wouldn't hurt the city's ability to borrow money in the future.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II expressed similar concerns.

City Finance Director Al Martin said as long as the debt had a dedicated funding source such as the hotel-motel tax, and depending on how the loan was structured, such a loan should not impact the city's bond rating.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said he would have to see the details of the commissioners' plan before deciding whether he would support it.

Last month, the council voted 4-1 to spend up to $3 million for the construction of a new stadium/railroad museum, providing certain conditions were met.

Those conditions include requirements that the stadium be built within the city, that no city property taxes pay for construction of the stadium, and that Washington County, the state or other governmental sources provide at least $6 million toward the project.

Where the city would get money for a new stadium has not been determined.

Property along Wesel Boulevard near the intersection with Burhans Boulevard in Hagerstown has been identified as the preferred site for the complex, which would cost $12 million to $15 million to build.

It was unknown Tuesday when the council might have to vote on the project again.

"There's still a lot of talking that has to be done," Bruchey said.

"This removes the single biggest stumbling block for us. It was not going anywhere without the help of the commissioners," Boyer said.

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