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Council to spend a bit more on rink, take more control

October 13, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - The City of Hagerstown is one step closer to having more control over the financially troubled Hagerstown Ice & Sports Complex.

The City Council on Tuesday gave the go-ahead to have officials begin drafting a new agreement between the city and the Washington County Sports Foundation, which is the group currently leasing the ice rink from the city.

Under the proposed agreement, the city likely would spend more money on the rink in the foreseeable future, but would have more financial control over the sports foundation.

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By shifting some of the financial burden from the sports foundation to the city, the sports foundation should be in a "better position for future financial success," City Director of Administrative Services John Budesky said during the council's Tuesday work session.

The proposed agreement, which has not yet been drafted, would keep the sports foundation as the group that operates the rink. The foundation would be responsible for building maintenance, some utilities, program development and staffing.

The city, which already pays some utilities, would pay a greater share of those. It would be able to place financial restrictions on the sports foundation, and would remain the owner of the rink.

Kristy Pottol, the sports foundation's board chairwoman, told the council that her group underwent management changes earlier this year to hold down costs. By the end of the fiscal year in June, the sports foundation was still $11,000 short, even though the rink brought in more than $300,000 in revenue in the same period.

Pottol said the sports foundation's revenues traditionally have fallen about $6,000 short.

While there are plans to increase the rink's attendance and the types of programs provided there, "We need some short-term help," Pottol said.

The city spends about $130,000 annually on the rink. 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.

According to Tuesday's proposal, the cost to the city would increase by about $26,000 under the new plan. The additional money would cover the full cost of electric, gas and water and sewer bills.

Martin said that while the additional expense is not planned for this year's budget, there is enough extra money to cover it. Martin said that is not the case for next year.

Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh, who also is on the sports foundation board, said that with better marketing, "I think it can be turned around," but said she would oppose any plan that would have the city, instead of a contractor, manage the rink.

"I will be opposed to that forever," Nigh said.

Budesky said that scenario was unlikely.

Mayor William M. Breichner said he hoped that the city's spending would decrease over time, but the rink is "one of our bragging points. ... We have to see that it continues."

Budesky said after the meeting that officials plan to bring the agreement back to the council at its Oct. 26 voting session for final approval.

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