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Commission says OK to stadium

funds iffy

December 14, 1999

By LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer

See also: Step-by-step to a stadium - What needs to happen next

The Washington County Commissioners voted Tuesday against spending county taxpayer money on a new stadium, but approved a compromise that could allow the $12 million to $15 million complex to be built.

cont. from front page

The County Commissioners, on a 3-2 vote, agreed to ask the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly to seek an increase in the hotel-motel tax from 3 percent to 5 percent.

The extra money raised would pay $3 million of the debt service for the proposed Hagerstown Roundhouse and Sports Complex. Any remaining money would go to the county.

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The Hagerstown City Council would have to borrow the money and assume the risks of building the complex.

Stadium supporters who packed the room applauded the decision.

"They made a significant commitment," said Richard Phoebus, chairman of a Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce stadium committee. "I think they took a very reasoned approach."

He was waiting for the County Commissioners to vote before seeking more pledges than the $1 million they now have, he said. A new fund-raising campaign will begin within 30 days, he said.

Hagerstown's City Council had earlier voted 4-1 to spend up to $3 million for the construction of a stadium. Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said he was concerned about the financial risks to the city with no county involvement.

"We're still a part of Washington County. If they don't want us to be, I guess we'll secede," Bruchey said.

Commissioner Paul L. Swartz, who has long supported a new stadium, wanted the county to borrow $3 million for the stadium.

"With the wisdom of Solomon, we have been provided an answer that doesn't require county taxpayer money. Travelers from all over the country will be footing our tax bill," he said, referring to the proposed hotel-motel tax increase.

The commissioners voted 4-1 against the county borrowing the money. Swartz was the lone supporter.

Commissioner John L. Schnebly, who proposed the compromise, said he is concerned that financial support for the stadium complex is lacking.

"I do not feel comfortable at this point in providing direct county support," he said.

His compromise came with other strings attached.

Within a year, the city's stadium authority would have to raise $3 million from the private sector.

Also, the county would review any in-kind donations to make sure the value was not being inflated.

"I don't think we want another ice rink situation," Schnebly said.

The financially-troubled Hagerstown Ice and Sports Complex is being subsidized by the Hagerstown City Council.

Schnebly, Swartz and Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger voted for the 3-2 compromise.

Even though he voted in favor, Iseminger said he has reservations.

"We keep looking at this as a city vs. county type project. It's a community project," he said.

He said the plan lacks a marketing and promotions plan and he is concerned about possible environmental problems at the proposed site along Wesel Boulevard, about 1/2 mile from Burhans Boulevard.

Commissioners William J. Wivell and Gregory I. Snook voted against the compromise.

Snook said the community should concentrate on unfinished projects such as the Hagerstown Fairgrounds, the ice rink, a new YMCA building and downtown revitalization before taking on a new project.

Wivell had wanted to raise the hotel-motel tax, but use the proceeds to fund the annual budgets of the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission.

The commissioners asked Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Ben Hart how the hotel owners would feel about a tax increase to fund the stadium.

Hart said about half the hotel owners polled said they would support the idea.

Iseminger also wondered whether the hotel tax law would allow the money to be used for a stadium.

"That will ultimately have to be decided by the delegation," Snook said.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said he needs to see the proposal in more detail before commenting.

Other members of the delegation could not be reached for comment.

Stadium supporters plan to ask Gov. Parris Glendening for state funding.

Money raised from a hotel-motel tax increase would count toward the local match that the state looks for before funding projects, said his spokeswoman Michelle Byrnie.

Later in the commissioners' meeting, Clear Spring resident Lisa Clommer presented a petition with 300 signatures of Washington County residents opposed to taxpayer funding of a stadium. They prefer the money go to paying off the $52.3 million water and sewer debt.

About 90 percent of residents she talks to oppose government money going to the stadium, Clommer said. Many of the vocal stadium supporters are wealthy or part of the entertainment industry, she said.




Staff Writer Scott Butki contributed to this story.

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