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Softball group to raise money for lights

January 13, 2007|by DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN - The Hagerstown Fairgrounds Softball Association wants to raise $200,000 to pay for installing lights at Fairgrounds Park's three ball fields, the association's president said.

Mike Kelbaugh said the association intends to raise the money by holding Christian rock 'n' roll concerts and golf and softball tournaments in the spring.

If everything goes well, Kelbaugh said the association wants to finish the middle field this year and wrap up the project by 2009.

"We would like to have one field done by the end of April," he said.

The association obtained a free lease from the city about eight years ago, Kelbaugh said. Under terms of the lease, the association controls operations at Fairgrounds Park and, in exchange, is responsible for maintaining the fields and preparing them for play.

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Kelbaugh said the lights would enable the association's 24 teams to play after dark and, once the association starts hosting night softball tournaments, could bring $25,000 a year to city hotel and restaurant owners.

Thomas B. Riford, president and CEO of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said $25,000 is an accurate estimate.

Money from visitors is vital to the area's economy, considering businesses associated with tourism, such as hotels and restaurants, comprise about 10 percent of the county's employment, he said.

Kelbaugh said a condition of making the plan succeed requires running an electrical line from a feed on Cleveland Avenue to the ball fields.

On Tuesday, Kelbaugh spoke to the Hagerstown City Council, and asked council members for a $40,000 commitment to extend the line.

"I'm just asking for help," he said during the meeting. "The way I see it is we're putting $200,000 into the city."

Although Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said granting the request was a possibility, Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh told Kelbaugh to ask the county for the funding.

Nigh said many of the Hagerstown Fairgrounds Softball Association's members live outside of the city. As a result, it's only fair that county officials help foot the bill.

Kelbaugh said he didn't know the residency breakdown of the association's 650 or so members. Furthermore, he questioned whether he had the authority to ask county officials for money to complete a project within the city.

Washington County Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire, a former Hagerstown city councilman, said he was almost certain any "entity" has the right to go before a public body - including the county commissioners - and request public funds.

The association has three viable avenues to get funding for such a project, Aleshire said.

The first is Program Open Space, a state program that helps refurbish public parks, in part, via proceeds from the Maryland Real Estate Transfer Tax.

The second is the hotel/motel tax, which Aleshire said is relevant in the association's case because night softball tournaments would benefit local lodging establishments.

The third option is the gaming tax.

Washington County Commissioner William J. Wivell said the city has to submit a request through the county for Program Open Space money.

Requests from municipalities typically exceed the available funding, Wivell said. However, the association's petition seems practical.

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