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Fund flap threatens stadium

March 02, 2000|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

Stadium supporter and Hagerstown City Councilman Alfred W. Boyer said plans for a new baseball park are in "jeopardy" because a majority of the Washington County Commissioners say they will cut the county's contribution to the project.

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Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said Thursday that the county's contribution for a new stadium will be no more than the city's contribution.

County funding, which would come from a proposed increase to the hotel-motel tax, was expected to be about $280,000 a year. The city's contribution is expected to be about $120,000 a year.

"We're going to be equal partners in this," Snook said.

He said if the city's contribution stays at $120,000 a year then that's what the county's contribution will be.

"I know I have consensus on that," Snook said.

After hearing about Snook's comments, Boyer said he didn't "feel very good about that at all. ... That leaves a significant shortage as far as local government support. It puts the project in jeopardy."

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Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II, also a strong supporter of a new stadium, said the decrease in county funding means the city would be able to borrow about $2 million less than previously thought.

The city and county contributions are expected to be merged and used to fund bonds, which would be guaranteed by the city. Bruchey said if the city and county each contribute $120,000 annually to the project, the city could probably borrow about $3 million.

The stadium would be the centerpiece of a $12 million to $15 million Hagerstown Roundhouse and Sports Complex, which would also have a railroad museum. The project was developed by a task force of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce. The original funding plan called for the city, county and private sector to contribute $3 million each with the state providing the rest of the funds.

Bruchey said the expected decrease in city and county funding, "will definitely mean more private (funding) because the city's not coming up with more money."

"It makes it a lot more difficult. I don't see (the stadium) on a clear path right now," Bruchey said.

Richard Phoebus, chairman of the chamber stadium task force, could not be reached for comment Thursday. Phoebus on Wednesday said the private sector would be able to make up any shortfall in government funding.

"And if we can't do it there's no stadium," Phoebus said.

Bruchey blamed the local delegation to the Maryland General Assembly for this latest turn.

The delegation "muddied the waters" when they gave the County Commissioners control over some of the money from a proposed increase to the county's hotel-motel tax, Bruchey said.

Before Wednesday morning, the plan developed by the delegation outlined how much each municipality in the county would receive from a hotel-motel tax increase. The commissioners had no control over how the money was spent or how much went to each municipality.

Hagerstown was slated to receive about $280,000, under that plan. That money was expected to go toward the stadium project, and to be considered the county's contribution to the project.

"That was the best plan," Bruchey said.

But Wednesday, the delegation decided instead to give the commissioners discretion over how the money would be spent if the tax hike goes through.

The delegation Wednesday approved raising the lodging tax to 6 percent from its current 3 percent. The tax hike must still be voted on by the General Assembly.

"They put the ball in the commissioners' court," Bruchey said. "It's a different ball game now."

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