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Munson says stadium funds should be tied to debt

January 18, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - The highest-ranking member of Washington County's legislative delegation says that any stadium funding should be tied to paying off the county's water and sewer debt.

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Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said he hasn't figured out exactly how to accomplish that goal.

But if he succeeds, it could be the key in getting much-needed delegation support for the $12 million to $15 million Hagerstown Roundhouse and Sports Complex.

Legislators who previously balked at stadium plans said they're interested in hearing a proposal.

"One of my main goals is reduction of the water and sewer debt," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

Del. Louise V. Snodgrass, R-Frederick/Washington, has said she supports the concept of a new stadium, but not when the county is facing a $52.3 million water and sewer debt.

Munson said he's open to advice, either for or against the stadium.

Stadium supporters have been encouraged that Munson hasn't closed the door on stadium funding, as he has in years past.

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But he said the water and sewer debt must be addressed in the funding proposal, which calls for an increase in the hotel-motel tax from 3 percent to 5 percent.

"If there's a stadium built in Washington County, then some way the funding of it is going to be related to paying off the water and sewer debt," Munson said.

Several Washington County Commissioners said they wouldn't be opposed to the idea, although they wondered how much money could be raised.

If Munson wants to earmark part of the hotel-motel tax increase for the debt, it would not go very far toward the $2 million a year the county's general fund is now paying, said Commissioner John L. Schnebly.

Commissioner Paul Swartz, who's on the committee that came up with the stadium proposal, said they recently learned that the financing costs might be more than anticipated. There's a question about whether the city must sell taxable bonds to raise the money, which come with a higher interest rate than tax-free bonds.

"That's a monkey wrench in the machinery," Swartz said.

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said his support of the stadium depends less on whether there is money for the water and sewer debt and more on the city of Hagerstown's next move.

The city has spent several weeks trying to come up with a plan to finance a new stadium without dipping into general fund revenues.

Finance Director Al Martin said he doesn't expect the work involving outside financial advisers to be finished until Feb. 1.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on the Maryland General Assembly's 90-day session, which got underway last week. The first filing deadline of Feb. 6 is fast approaching.

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