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Delegation wants answers before seeking stadium money

December 20, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

The Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly won't decide whether to pursue funding for a new stadium in Hagerstown until lawmakers get answers to some crucial questions early next year.

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"One issue that concerns me greatly, I would like to know how it's going to be a community facility? In the past, the ball team has had too much say in the use of the stadium," Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, told the Hagerstown City Council on Monday.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, asked how the City Council planned to pay the debt service on its $3 million share of the $12 million to $15 million proposed Hagerstown Roundhouse and Sports Complex.

Earlier, the council had voted not to use property tax money. Bruchey said Monday there will not be a property tax increase to pay for the stadium.

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The city expects to reap money from the new stadium through a new contract with the Hagerstown Suns, said Councilman Al Boyer.

Munson also wondered what would happen to Hagerstown Municipal Stadium if a replacement were built. The state and city have spent a combined $1.5 million to improve the ballpark since 1982.

"We have the same concerns as you do," said Councilman William M. Breichner.

The stadium proposal has been controversial, with some elected officials calling for a voter referendum to decide the issue.

State lawmakers told City Council Monday that they need more information before moving forward with a request to help finance the proposed sports complex.

Last week, the Washington County Commissioners asked the delegation to increase the county's hotel-motel tax from 3 percent to 5 percent, with the additional proceeds to be used to pay the debt service on $3 million of the construction cost.

The City Council would have to borrow the $3 million, plus another $3 million for the city's share, under the plan.

State and private sources would pay for the rest of the complex, possibly to be built on CSX-owned property off Wesel Boulevard.

City Finance Director Al Martin said he believes the new arrangement won't hurt the city's ability to borrow money in the future, but has asked its financial advisers to assess the impact to city finances.

Martin plans to report back to the council Jan. 11, the day before the Maryland General Assembly opens its 90-day session in Annapolis.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II wants to have that report before giving the delegation a detailed funding request.

That means stadium supporters will have to go to Annapolis to make their pitch, said Delegation Chairman Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

The delegation will give equal access to stadium opponents, said McKee.

"It's not meant to stifle opposition," he said.

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