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Local funding plan for stadium revised

January 29, 2000|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

The latest and most complete local funding plan for the Hagerstown Roundhouse and Sports Complex calls for substantial changes to conditions of existing funding plans.

Under the new plan all the proceeds of a proposed increase to a hotel-motel tax and some city property taxes would help pay for the project, contrary to agreements already adopted by city and county politicians.

If the plan is endorsed by Hagerstown's Mayor and City Council it will be the first time city officials identify where the local money for the project is coming from.

This latest funding plan for the $12 million to $15 million baseball stadium and railroad museum complex was drafted by City Finance Director Al Martin. It was made available Friday afternoon and will be presented during the mayor and council work session at 4 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.

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The plan calls for using a subsidy supported by Hagerstown property taxes, which would be equal to the approximately $120,000 subsidy for the current baseball stadium, to help pay for the project. This goes against a policy adopted by the council in November which stated, "the source of funds for the city's financial support ... shall not be property tax revenues."

But in separate interviews last week, all five council members said they now support using the subsidy for the existing stadium to help pay for a new stadium.

Even Councilman J. Wallace McClure, who had promised to petition to referendum any council decision to spend tax dollars on a new stadium, said he would be OK with transferring the subsidy to a new stadium. He said so long as the amount did not exceed the current subsidy he would not try to take the matter to referendum.

According to city documents, the current subsidy comes from the city's general fund. Approximately 55 to 60 percent of general fund money comes from property taxes.

The plan also calls for using all the proceeds from a proposed increase to the Washington County hotel-motel tax to fund the project.

In December, the County Commissioners voted to request that the state legislature increase the county hotel-motel tax to 5 percent from the current 3 percent. However, the amount of money going from the tax increase toward a new stadium would be limited to the annual debt payments on $3 million in bonds. Any additional money taken in, estimated to be about $60,000 a year, would go back to the county.

Some politicians, including State Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, have said they would like to see some of the tax increase used to pay on the county's $52.3 million water and sewer debt.

Commissioner John L. Schnebly said Friday that lifting the cap on the amount of money allowed to go toward a stadium from the proposed tax increase would probably require a new vote by the commissioners. Schnebly said he wanted to see a proposal from the city before commenting on any proposed changes.

If the plan released Friday is adopted by the council, the state approves the tax increase and the County Commissioners go along with putting all of the money from the tax increase toward the project, the city will have an estimated $440,000 a year available to pay off bonds for a new stadium. With that much money the city could afford to borrow $4 million to $6 million, according to city documents.

The city and county were each asked to contribute $3 million toward the project. The commissioners decided the county would not borrow any money for the project, but instead pay off $3 million of city bonds.

It is expected the city would issue bonds for the money. Exactly how much money they could raise would depend upon whether the bonds are tax-exempt, and the terms on the bonds.

Dick Phoebus, chairman of a Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce committee that developed the original stadium/railroad museum proposal, said even if the city and county could only raise $4 million he is confident they could make up the difference elsewhere.

One issue not addressed in the funding plan is what will happen to the city's existing stadium, Municipal Stadium on Memorial Boulevard.

A majority of City Council members said last week the city should demolish the stadium and try to sell the property.

Councilman William M. Breichner said one option would be to turn the site of the existing stadium into another city park.

Councilman Alfred W. Boyer said he would consider giving the property away.

Whatever they decide will happen to the old stadium, Breichner and Boyer, the strongest supporters of providing funding for a new stadium, say they need to act fast.

Breichner called Tuesday's meeting "critical."

"I hope to come out of there with everything in place to go to the delegation," he said.

Breichner said time is running out in the current state legislative session, and he believes they have to act before March to have a shot at state funds this year.

"Personally, I think February is critical," he said.

Boyer said Tuesday's council meeting "could be a make-or-break meeting if a majority of my colleagues don't think the way I do."

At last week's local delegation meeting, Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, asked whether lawmakers should make it clear to city officials that the legislative clock is ticking.

"If we don't move on it, the delegation is going to be the bad guy," Shank said.

But Munson said he didn't want the city to rush into something "risky or financially unstable."

"I would just as soon let this thing take its natural course," Munson said.

Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce President Fred Teeter said once the city has done its evaluation, legislators shouldn't need a lot of time to review the request.

"This should be a very simple bill," Teeter said.

State lawmakers have until March 6 to introduce a bill without suspending the rules. The delegation has not asked for a bill to be drafted.

Staff writer Laura Ernde contributed to this report.

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