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Officials consider how to spend hotel tax

December 14, 2000

Officials consider how to spend hotel tax



By SCOTT BUTKI / Staff Writer


An estimated $350,000 in hotel-motel tax money earmarked for a new stadium may be used instead next year to widen alleys and add parking near the new District Court building in downtown Hagerstown, County Administrator Rodney Shoop said Thursday.

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One member of the county's delegation to the Maryland General Assembly objects to the idea of using the money for only that project.

The county expects to raise about $600,000 from a hotel-motel tax increase approved by the state legislature this year. The tax was increased from 3 percent to 6 percent.

Approximately $250,000 of the anticipated revenue is dedicated to sewer debt reduction. The county was to use the remainder to develop tourism attractions, enhance economic development or support cultural and recreational projects.

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The County Commissioners in May voted 3-2 to use lodging tax proceeds to fund the county's $3 million commitment to a new baseball stadium, provided certain conditions were met. That project has been stalled.

On Nov. 21, Hagerstown and Washington County elected officials agreed to jointly fund the $645,000 alley project. At that time, the commissioners instructed Shoop to find money in next year's budget to pay for that commitment, Shoop said.

It would be logical to use the $350,000 anticipated from the hotel-motel tax hike to pay the county's share of the alleyway project, he said.

Del. Chris Shank, R-Washington, who wrote the tax increase legislation that would generate the money, said if the county spends almost all of the $350,000 annual hotel tax revenues on the court project "it would very much disturb me."

Shank said the parking and alleyway idea is a good one but said the money from the tax should be used for projects throughout the county. He said he has been meeting with local municipalities to discuss projects that might be worthy of hotel tax funding.

He said he would tell Shoop: "Hold on there. And let's see who else is applying."

If the county chooses to use the lodging tax money for city of Hagerstown projects, Shank said he and the delegation may have to clarify the legislation's language to specify that the money should be spread out among municipalities.

The County Commissioners in recent months have not publicly discussed how the county would use the money from the lodging tax increase that is not earmarked for debt reduction.

The commissioners will discuss how to spend those revenues this spring as part of the annual budget proceedings, Shoop said.

The Hagerstown City Council wants to ensure the city is part of any conversation about use of the lodging tax money, City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman would not comment on the idea of using the hotel tax money for the parking commitment.

Earlier this month, Sharpsburg Mayor Sid Gale said he was encouraged by Shank to seek funding for local recreational and cultural projects.

Such projects could include the Sharpsburg Memorial Parade and the restoration of the old railroad station being undertaken by the Hagerstown Model Railroad Museum Inc., Sharpsburg council members said.

Hagerstown City Councilman Al Boyer, the city elected official most vocal in his support of the stadium project, said he would prefer that the County Commissioners wait before earmarking the money for a project other than the stadium.

But Commissioner Paul L. Swartz, the only commissioner vocally supporting the most recent stadium plan, said it was time to start thinking about using some of the money next year on a project other than the stadium.

Until November, the District Court proposal was a $550,000 plan to widen alleys around the new J. Louis Boublitz District Court Building and adjacent parking lot to accommodate two-way traffic, and to purchase the Unikote building.

During a joint city-county meeting Tuesday, County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook suggested that an additional $95,000 be spent to demolish the Unikote building and build a 25-space parking lot in its place.

The $95,000 had been slated for a future phase of improvements to the area around the court building.

Zimmerman said the $95,000 for demolition and parking lot construction was part of a $738,500 additional request the city will send to the state.

Zimmerman said if the state does not provide the funding, the city probably will include additional funds for the project in the next city budget.

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