Proposal: Give city more control over ice rink

October 09, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN - Under a new proposal, the City of Hagerstown would have more control over the financially troubled Hagerstown Ice & Sports Complex.

The proposal is to be presented to the Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday and could be adopted as early as Oct. 27.

John Budesky, the city's director of administrative services, said Friday that the proposal would mean, at least in the foreseeable future, that the city would spend more money annually on the rink.


By doing so, the group that runs the rink - the Washington County Sports Foundation - would be more likely to become profitable, and the rink's operations could expand, Budesky said.

However, the sports foundation would face more restrictions from the city in the form of annual financial goals, Budesky said.

City Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh, who sits on the sports foundation's board of directors, said she was surprised to hear the proposed changes.

"I am really surprised at this. ... When you're looking at what the city's going to be paying out here, ... that's not going to be good," Nigh said. "There's a lot of money that's going from here to there to everywhere."

The city already spends about $130,000 per year on the rink, according to city budget documents.

This year, the city authorized the transfer of $114,600 in City Light Department revenues from the city's electric customers to continue repaying the $1.2 million the city borrowed to build the rink, which opened in 1997. The city also authorized spending $21,000 this year on utilities for the rink as part of the current agreement with the sports foundation.

Under the proposed agreement, the city would take full responsibility for the debt payments as well as the water and sewer, electric and gas payments. Budesky said those payments would be about $57,000 per year, or about $36,000 more than the city already is spending.

The sports foundation would be responsible for building maintenance, running programs, additional utilities not covered by the city and staffing.

Budesky said the current agreement asks the sports foundation to pay the annual debt service on the rink, with the eventual plan of turning the rink over to the sports foundation.

The sports foundation has not yet been able to earn enough money from the rink to pay the debt service, Budesky said. Including the city's support, the sports foundation generally has spent $4,000 to $7,000 more than it brings in, Budesky said.

The ice rink, which is owned by the city but leased to the sports foundation, currently is organized as an enterprise fund, a designation the city uses for self-sustaining operations, similar to the City Light Department.

Under the proposal, the rink would be reorganized under the Parks and Recreation Department, which would be paid out of the city's general fund, which is the portion of the budget that is taxpayer supported, Budesky said.

The city also would be able to set financial goals for the sports foundation. For example, the city could ask for increases in skate shop sales, or require more open-skating hours, Budesky said.

Those goals - including overall profitability - would be used in the city's review process to decide if it would continue allowing the sports foundation to run the rink, Budesky said. Under the proposal, the city could choose another group to operate the rink, or have city staff take over operations.

Asked if the proposed changes were in response to a lack of confidence in the sports foundation's ability to run the rink, Budesky said that was not the case.

"We believe the rink has a tremendous amount of potential," Budesky said. "It'll be positioned for ... growth in the future."

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