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Lawmakers' stadium support is shaky

February 24, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - If forced to vote today on a new minor league baseball stadium for Hagerstown, only one of the eight members of the local legislative delegation said he would vote yes.

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Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, a longtime stadium supporter, said he has watched other communities across the state build stadiums while Hagerstown is being left behind.

"I think it's about time Western Maryland got some help for a complex," he said. "I think we've wasted a tremendous amount of time on something that, to me, is very simple."

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said he would definitely vote against the stadium. Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said he probably would vote no.

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Most others said they aren't ready to vote on the issue because there are too many questions about the $12 million to $15 million plan and how it would be funded.

Shank thinks the delegation to the Maryland General Assembly owes it to residents to vote one way or the other on the issue.

If the delegation votes against the stadium, it would end supporters' chances of getting the project off the ground this year. They would not be able to ask Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening for $6 million in construction money and $750,000 in design money.

Donoghue said he thought a compromise had been reached to allow the project to continue.

A proposed hotel-motel tax increase would give Hagerstown a yearly block grant to spend on economic development or tourism. City officials said they planned to use it for a stadium.

The tax increase also would provide money to help reduce Washington County's $52.3 million water and sewer debt.

A vote on the tax increase was postponed from Tuesday until next Wednesday.

McKee, delegation chairman, said lawmakers are reworking the plan because the message from citizens is the priority should be debt reduction.

McKee said he's not sure that the stadium plan is well-defined but has not wanted to stand in its way.

"It's all compromise and if I feel we can get debt reduction, I don't want to stand in the way," he said.

Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, said she wants to back the stadium but is concerned that supporters are asking the state for too large a share. Supporters need to pin down the private share, which has been estimated at between $3 million and $5 million, she said.

Del. Joseph R. Bartlett, R-Frederick/Washington, thinks a stadium vote is premature.

"Do I like stadiums and baseball? Absolutely. Am I ready to vote on a stadium in Washington County? It depends on many factors. If asked to vote, I would probably abstain," Bartlett said.

Del. Louise V. Snodgrass, R-Frederick/Washington, said she's not ready to vote on a stadium until she sees some firm numbers.

"I can't support it unless we have the debt reduction. I think it could be an asset, but the big concern I'm hearing is the debt reduction," she said.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, said he doesn't have a problem with using state money to build a stadium.

But he said he's not willing to vote for an increase in the hotel-motel tax to help pay for it.

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