Schnebly presses delegation plan

February 15, 2000|By SCOTT BUTKI

Washington County Commissioner John L. Schnebly wanted to know Tuesday why some members of the local delegation to the Maryland General Assembly are denying that a plan they devised is intended to fund a proposed baseball stadium.

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If they don't want to fund the stadium they should be "man enough" to say so, Schnebly said during a County Commissioners meeting.

"I am making an appeal for honesty and integrity," he said.

At a public hearing Saturday, some delegation members said the plan is not a stadium funding plan, Schnebly said.

Schnebly called the state plan "the result of unintended consequences." It was sparked by the commissioners' vote to seek an increase in the hotel-motel tax from 3 percent to 5 percent to raise $3 million for a new stadium for the Hagerstown Suns, he said.

"It is government by being an amoeba," Schnebly said of the plan. "It has gone a whole bunch of different directions we never intended."


The state plan calls for doubling the hotel-motel tax to 6 percent, altering the Washington County Gaming Commission fund distribution formula and making other changes in order to fund a tourism project, such as a stadium, and paying down the county's $52.3 million water and sewer debt.

Some lawmakers continued to say Tuesday that their plan is not a stadium plan, although it grew in part from a request from business and government leaders for stadium money.

"Technically, it's not a stadium plan. It's supposed to be a true compromise," said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, who has been the only vocal stadium supporter in the eight-member county legislative delegation.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said he proposed the tax increase as a way to pay down the debt while also providing money for economic development and tourism projects the City of Hagerstown has talked about.

"I am concerned that my support for this has been misconstrued as support for the stadium," Shank said.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said without the stadium proposal, there would have been no debt reduction proposal.

"I don't think it works unless all those things are tied together," Munson said.

In response to comments from the Washington County government, lawmakers are changing a part of the plan that deals with the county's debt.

The original version required the County Commissioners to put about $400,000 a year into a fund to pay off the county pretreatment plant's $9.3 million debt.

But due to the nature of the bonds issued to pay off the debt, the county can't pay off most of the pretreatment loans for almost 10 years.

County Administrator Rodney Shoop has suggested instead using the money to subsidize bills for the county's estimated 8,000 water and sewer customers.

But state lawmakers remained adamant Tuesday that the money go toward debt reduction. If not the pre-treatment debt, they said they want to target the overall water and sewer debt.

Rate decreases won't solve the county's long-term financial problem. And rates that were too low helped create the debt problem in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Shank said.

Reducing the debt would save money and curb the need for rate increases later, said Munson.

Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger suggested the county wait to see what the new proposal is before taking a position on it. The commissioners also have not taken a position on Shoop's suggestion.

The delegation is scheduled to discuss the plan during its weekly meeting today and may vote on at least one of the three laws that make up the plan.

Also during Tuesday's meeting Commissioner Paul L. Swartz said he opposes the part of the state plan that would cut by 10 percent the amount of Washington County Gaming Commission funds going to charities.

Commissioner William J. Wivell said he is not convinced charities will be hurt by the change since the amount available for distribution has increased since the gaming commission began distributing the gaming funds and projections are it will continue to grow.

- Staff writer Laura Ernde contributed to this story.

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