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Finance director fields parking deck questions

January 14, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown's finance director faced questioning about the city's proposal to build a $2.4 million parking deck during the Hagerstown City Council's Tuesday work session.

"I think we're going to be pleasantly surprised at the amount of demand for parkers," City Finance Director Alfred Martin said during the council's work session.

He said he expects half of the 202 spaces in a new parking deck to be filled within three years.

The city is planning to begin building the five-level parking garage on South Potomac Street across from the Maryland Theatre by late spring or early summer of this year, and to complete it within about a year, Martin said after the session.

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The parking deck is seen by some city officials and local business groups as central to the success of several building projects currently in motion, including the University System of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center and the Bowman Development Corp. project that would revamp two buildings on South Potomac Street near the site of the proposed garage.

The city expects $1.2 million of the project cost to be paid within two years, with the amount split evenly between the city and the county. The county has not committed to that plan. The remaining $1.25 million would be borrowed.

Discussions Tuesday revolved around the new garage's annual costs. Those would include the day-to-day costs of running the garage - estimated at $30,000 a year - and the annual debt payments, which are projected to be $125,000 a year for 15 to 20 years.

Councilman Kristin Aleshire asked Martin several times what the public share of the costs would be on the new deck, and eventually proposed that the council adopt measures to cap the amount the city would have to pay to run the garage.

Aleshire said while there's plenty of support from the business community for the garage, "They're really not the entity that's going to be faced with having to pay. ... That's the bottom line."

Referring to the North Potomac Street parking deck, which costs the city about $170,000 a year in operating costs, Aleshire said "what I don't want to be involved in is a deck that is driving down" the city's general fund.

Martin did not say specifically what the cost to the general fund would be.

"These are projections. I can't make guarantees," Martin said. But he said the city's estimates show a new parking deck would not be as costly.

Economic Development Director Debbie Everhart said several businesses and organizations near the proposed site have shown interest in the garage, and there is an agreement with Bowman to rent one-fourth of the spaces for between $24,000 and $30,000 a year.

Martin said the Bowman agreement would decrease the $155,000 in overall annual costs to about $125,000. Higher use of the garage would decrease costs further, he said.

Martin said that in the 2007-08 fiscal year, the city will get a break on debt payments on the existing garage. That will allow the city to shift money - about $115,000 - over to debt payment for the new garage.

In the meantime, Martin said he hoped to cover the financing gap with grant money.

The council will vote on whether to accept the current financing plan at the end of the month

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