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County OKs stadium spending

May 09, 2000|By SCOTT BUTKI

The Washington County Commissioners agreed Tuesday to spend up to almost $5.2 million on a new baseball stadium but included conditions designed to prevent the county from facing a higher bill should revenue estimates not be met.

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The vote was conditional on the private sector raising $3 million within one year for the $15 million stadium, Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger said.

The earliest that stadium construction could begin would be 2002 and the first pitch at an official game would not be thrown before 2003, Commissioner Paul L. Swartz said.

Commissioners Swartz, Iseminger and John Schnebly voted for two motions to pledge money for the stadium. Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook and Commissioner William J. Wivell voted against the spending.

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"I have always felt we would get a 3-2 vote and we had a 3-2 vote," Swartz said.

He said the money would come from the county hotel-motel tax, which he noted is usually paid by noncounty residents.

The decisions clear the way for work to begin on stadium studies, preconstruction engineering and architectural work required under a state law that doubled the hotel tax.

The lodging tax will increase from 3 percent to 6 percent July 1.

The tax raised $486,175 in fiscal 1999, according to county documents. It is estimated the tax will raise $923,578 in the fiscal year that begins July 1, according to County Administrator Rodney Shoop.

Of that, the county can use $300,000 a year to pay for economic development and tourism expenses, including a stadium.

Tuesday's decision commits $190,000 from next year's hotel tax proceeds to pay for the additional studies for the stadium, where the Hagerstown Suns would play minor league baseball.

The vote for the $345,000 studies was contingent on the city paying $120,000 and the private sector raising $35,000. The private sector also would be responsible for any cost overruns.

The commissioners also voted conditionally to spend up to $250,000 a year for 20 years to pay for the project.

If the commissioners give the full amount each year, that $5 million would pay for the $3 million construction bond and debt service.

The pledge included a condition designed to ensure that the government would not be forced to pick up the tab if revenues fell short of projected amounts, Schnebly said. Instead those costs would have to be made up by the private sector, he said.

There will be at least a one year gap between the time the county provides money for studies and when it starts spending money on the construction bonds, Iseminger said. That means there would be at least one year when the county could spend the $300,000 hotel tax money on other projects, he said.

Supporters of a proposed Civil War museum have said they would like to tap into that money.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II attended the 45-minute discussion and vote on the stadium. He urged the commissioners to pledge money for the project.

Last week the Hagerstown City Council voted 4-1 to contribute $120,000 to the studies, and committed to spend, in the future, $250,000 a year for 20 to 30 years for stadium construction. Councilman Wally McClure voted against the proposal and plans to take the issue to a city referendum.

The city would issue $6 million in bonds, with the city and the county each paying off half the debt.

At a joint meeting Tuesday, stadium supporters told the council and commissioners about the site behind the Centre at Hagerstown that has been selected for the stadium. The property is inside city limits.

Dick Phoebus, chairman of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce stadium task force, said the state will be asked for $6 million, with the private sector expected to come up with $3 million.

Some members of the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly say it is unrealistic to expect the state to provide $6 million.

If the state provides less than $6 million, the stadium task force would need to raise the difference in the private sector, Schenbly said.

Swartz, a member of the task force, agreed.

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