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Washington County Commissioners have second thoughts about Little League gift

With no set policy, some commissioners wonder if act sets bad precedent

With no set policy, some commissioners wonder if act sets bad precedent

August 02, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Three days after voting to give $10,000 to a local Little League baseball team, some Washington County Commissioners were second-guessing the decision Friday, saying they were not as clear as they should have been about some details before they voted.

Commissioners President John F. Barr said Friday he has received several phone calls this week that have made him question his decision to support the funding.

Vice President Terry L. Baker said he was under the impression the money would be used for future expenses and did not realize it might be used to replenish depleted coffers.

The issue shines light, other commissioners said, on the fact that there is not always a clear policy for how funding requests are handled by the county commissioners.

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On Tuesday, during the comments portion of the county commissioners' weekly meeting, Commissioner James F. Kercheval said he had received a $10,000 request from Bill Abeles, manager of the Federal Little League 11-12 All Stars, which recently won the Maryland State Tournament title.

Abeles asked for the money to help pay travel expenses for the team, which had stayed in a hotel for several nights in Easton, Md., during the state tournament and has advanced to the Mid-Atlantic Regional tournament in Bristol, Conn.

Federal begins play in the regional tournament today. If the team makes it to the final game, it would be played Monday, Aug. 11.

After a short discussion, the commissioners voted 3-1 to give the team $10,000 out of the county's hotel-motel tax fund.

The money will be given in the form of a check, Washington County Budget and Finance Director Debra S. Murray said Friday.

Commissioner William J. Wivell voted against the request, saying it would set a bad precedent because there are several other Little League teams in Washington County that are not receiving money.

Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire was out of the room during the vote.

In an e-mail to the other commissioners before Tuesday's meeting, Kercheval wrote that the money would be used to "help recover the expenses for the (state) tournament and future costs as they now move on to the Mid Atlantic Regional playoffs."

On Friday, however, Baker said he was under the impression the money would be used only to pay for expenses incurred during the regional tournament, not the state tournament.

"My vote was for $10,000 to help pay forward from states," Baker said.

Little League Baseball, a nonprofit organization that serves as an umbrella group for Little League districts, reimburses teams for mileage during state tournaments, spokesman Chris Downs said.

Teams that go to regional tournaments and beyond also are given lodging, food and money for transportation.

Lodging and food is given only to players; parents must pay their own expenses.

Abeles said Friday that his team paid almost $12,000 to stay eight or nine nights near Easton for the state tournament. That amount does not include the cost of food or transportation.

While the team did raise some money for the tournament, he said those funds have dwindled quickly as the team advanced, which is why he asked the county commissioners for help.

"We're basically trying to refill our coffers," Abeles said. "It's really to reimburse what was spent at states as we move forward through regionals."

He said the $10,000 probably will pay for about half of the team's expenses from states and regionals.

Three other local Little League teams - two from Hancock and one from Maugansville - played in state tournaments this year, though none won titles. None of the teams have received funding from the county.

Officials from the Hancock and Maugansville Little Leagues could not be reached for comment Friday.

Kercheval said it is unfair to compare those teams to Federal because they did not play as long and are not advancing to regionals and therefore have not incurred the same expenses.

Barr said he was not so sure.

"I've definitely had some thoughts about whether it was the right thing to do," said Barr, who will be out of town when the commissioners meet Tuesday. "Sometimes in life, you make decisions that you realize later might not have been the best ones."

Wivell said Friday that he voted against the funding because it was "a request made on a whim, with no accounting."

"I just think $10,000 is a lot of money to just give to a Little League team," Wivell said.

Kercheval said he wants to see the expenses that the team incurs when the players return home.

"I'll wait and reserve judgment until it's all over," Kercheval said.

Aleshire said Friday that the county commissioners need to adopt a "consistent policy" for funding requests.

He said the commissioners have let other requests from groups pass without taking action.

"Not to say I have a huge issue with this. My concern is that there has been no discussion on the process, with no level of consistency," Aleshire said. "A spur-of-the-moment vote only leaves you open for this kind of confusion."

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