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Softball league maintains lease at Fairgrounds Park

February 23, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - The Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday approved a one-year lease for the Hagerstown Fairgrounds Softball Association to use Fairgrounds Park.

The council also approved policy changes for park leases because of recent disputes.

Both measures passed on a 4-1 vote. Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh cast both dissenting votes.

The softball lease came under dispute in December after the softball association asked for an early decision from the council to renew its current lease, which expires at the end of this year.

Hagerstown PONY League Inc. - a youth baseball league - in December requested the council consider giving use of the fairgrounds three softball fields to its group, at the exclusion of the softball league.

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The PONY League holds a lease at Funkhouser Park, but in a January meeting told council members it was outgrowing the space, where there is only one ballfield.

At that meeting, the council took up the request but decided to continue the Fairgrounds Park lease with the softball group, citing expensive upgrades the softball group had paid for.

The council at the time instead requested proposals for new facilities from PONY League officials, saying they were looking for longer-term solutions to the lack of park space in the city.

Nigh was the only vocal supporter of the PONY League's bid to take control of the fairgrounds fields, and has said that the January decision by the council did not take into account the needs of city children.

On Tuesday, Nigh voiced opposition to both measures.

"I don't feel that this was handled fairly by the (city) staff," Nigh said after the measure to renew the lease with the softball group was discussed by the council on Tuesday.

A second measure addressed by the council will give user groups, such as sports leagues, that hold leases with the city a so-called "first right to renew" their leases, meaning that groups that already have leases would be given preference over other groups as long as they have met their lease obligations.

Under the measure approved Tuesday, the lease agreements will be reviewed annually by the mayor and City Council.

At a meeting earlier this month, City Director of Administrative Services John Budesky said the policy proposal arose from the dispute over Fairgrounds Park. Budesky also oversees the city's parks department.

Nigh opposed that measure because of its relation to the dispute between the softball and baseball groups.

"There is a bitter taste in my mouth as to how it was handled, and to how it was handled so quickly," Nigh said before she and the other council members cast their votes.

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