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Legislature OKs state funds for battlefield site

March 17, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - The House of Delegates Thursday approved the creation of the South Mountain Battlefield, amid lingering questions about how it will be funded.

State lawmakers are pondering using hotel-motel taxes from Frederick and Washington counties to develop the battlefield as a tourist destination.

The legislation that was sent to the Senate Thursday would allow the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to charge an entrance fee to cover an estimated $500,000 in annual operating costs.

Lawmakers from Frederick and Washington counties are also hoping Gov. Parris Glendening will add money to his 2001 budget for the park.

To help persuade the governor, Del. Louise Snodgrass, R-Frederick/Washington, said local lawmakers need to show they are trying to find other sources of money.

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That's one reason why she wants to earmark 10 percent of Frederick County's proposed room tax for South Mountain.

Washington County's proposed hotel-motel tax increase allows the County Commissioners to decide how to spend an estimated $300,000 a year on tourism and economic development.

Del. Chris Shank, R-Washington, said he thinks South Mountain would be an appropriate use of the new 6 percent room tax, but the Washington County delegation has not discussed whether to designate any of the money.

The commissioners have offered to give at least $120,000 a year to the City of Hagerstown for a new stadium, but a funding plan is up in the air.

Meanwhile, Snodgrass said it is her hope that the South Mountain designation will improve Frederick County's chances of getting Senate approval of a proposed 5 percent hotel-motel tax.

That tax is in trouble, because it is opposed by both Frederick County Senators, Alex Mooney and Timothy Ferguson.

Snodgrass' strategy appeared to backfire Thursday when Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, and Ferguson, R-Frederick/Carroll, became upset because they weren't included in the discussion. Both vowed to continue their opposition to tax increases.

The House approved the creation of South Mountain Battlefield by a vote of 136 to 1.

"Today was a stunning victory," Shank said.

Del. Dana Dembrow, D-Montgomery, voted against creating the battlefield because it permits DNR to charge an entrance fee.

The ability to charge a fee enables DNR to move forward with the battlefield without hurting the other state parks, which are already underfunded, argued Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington.

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