Munson wants debt funds tied to stadium

January 31, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE and SCOTT BUTKIs

ANNAPOLIS - The stadium funding plan that Hagerstown City Council members are expected to approve today may not pass political muster with state lawmakers.

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The plan does not include money for Washington County's water and sewer debt, which may be crucial to getting the support of the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly.

"Without debt funding, I have no interest in voting for stadium funding," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, the delegation's highest-ranking member.

For years, local lawmakers have looked in vain for state help in reducing the county's water and sewer debt, which is at $52.3 million


The delegation is expected to discuss the issue with the Washington County Commissioners at a meeting in Annapolis Wednesday morning.

The stadium plan that the Hagerstown City Council will vote on today calls for an increase in the hotel-motel tax from 3 percent to 5 percent. That hike requires Maryland General Assembly approval.

The extra money raised would be used to make payments on a $4 million to $6 million loan for the Hagerstown Roundhouse and Sports Complex. The exact amount would depend on the interest rate of the bonds when they are sold.

When the Washington County Commissioners first proposed its funding plan in December, they agreed to give the city enough hotel-motel tax money to pay for $3 million in stadium debt service and keep the rest.

Now it appears there won't be any money left over, said Hagerstown Councilman William M. Breichner.

Breichner said he doesn't think it's up to Hagerstown officials to find money for Washington County's water and sewer debt.

"It's beyond our jurisdiction. There's not much we can do about that," Breichner said.

It would be up to the commissioners and the delegation to decide if the room tax should be hiked even more to raise more money to pay off the water and sewer debt, he said.

City officials wouldn't answer some questions about its funding plan, which was released Friday, until tonight's meeting.

Those questions include why the total city-county funding under the plan may only be $4 million rather than the previously estimated $6 million.

Councilman Alfred W. Boyer said the city numbers are "fluid" right now but will become more specific as the City Council gets answers to some questions, including whether bonds issued to pay for the stadium are taxable.

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.

Under the plan, annual stadium operating expenses would be paid for by anticipated revenues from the new stadium, Boyer said.

Construction would be financed through the hotel-motel tax increase. The city and county estimate the tax hike will bring in about $320,000 a year. The current 3 percent hotel-motel tax brought in $461,789 last year.

The county expected to get about $60,000 of the tax increase, but the city now expects to keep it all.

The County Commissioners may need to take another vote. They will probably discuss the matter during a meeting today, County Administrator Rodney Shoop said.

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

Phoebus could not be reached for comment Monday.

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