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City to lend $250,000 for North stadium turf - UPDATE

June 07, 2006|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

The city of Hagerstown will lend $250,000 for the construction of a North Hagerstown High School stadium, money that will be repaid with interest.

The Hagerstown City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday to approve the loan, which will pay for synthetic turf, a final piece of the stadium project.

Conservit, a Washington County recycling company, promised to give $250,000 to help build the stadium if it has synthetic turf and if Conservit gets naming rights to the field. The company already has given $100,000 of that amount to the stadium project and has pledged $150,000 more.

On May 26, the Washington County Board of Education awarded a $461,000 contract for synthetic turf to Specialty Surfaces Inc. of Wayne, Pa., contingent on financing.

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The school system budgeted $227,000 for a stadium with grass, so Conservit's $250,000 would cover the rest of the synthetic-turf contract.

City Councilwoman Kelly Cromer said she had little time to review and consider the financing resolution, a copy of which the council received that day. She asked to table the vote until later in the month.

But Councilman Lew Metzner said the stadium is being "fast tracked" by the city and school board so it can be ready for football games this fall. He noted that the synthetic turf work can't proceed until financing is set.

Cromer voted in favor of the resolution, but Councilwoman Penny Nigh voted "no." She said the stadium was supposed to be built entirely with private contributions, but now has a mix of public funding, too.

Metzner said the idea of only private money ended several years ago.

John Williamson, a member of the committee raising money for the stadium, said the entire project - which includes a field and a track - is now estimated to cost $4.7 million.

Of that, the committee has received pledges of money and services of about $4.5 million, he said. About $1.6 million is coming from government sources.

The financing resolution calls for the city to loan $250,000 to the North High Booster Club. The term will be 10 years and the annual interest rate will be either 5 percent or a variable rate.

Metzner said this morning that the Booster Club will repay the loan using money pledged by Conservit and other groups.

"I fail to see the logic in not facilitating (financing) when it's not a dime - not a dime - out of the taxpayer's pocket," Councilman Kristin Aleshire said during Tuesday's meeting.

Metzner - whose brother, Jack, is Conservit's president and chief executive officer - said at the meeting that his involvement as a councilman is not an ethical conflict.

He said Conservit won't financially benefit from the arrangement. Naming rights do not help a company that does no retail business, he said.

Metzner said Jacqueline Fischer, vice president of the school board, has questioned the situation, but she hasn't talked to him about it.

In a phone interview after the meeting, Fischer - who voted against the turf contract - said she didn't accuse Metzner of wrongdoing, but was concerned a problem might arise and stop the project.

She said naming rights could be seen as advertising and corporate donations might be tax-deductible, which are ways Conservit might benefit.

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