'Haven't we been through this before?'

Extra hotel-motel tax revenue for stadium leaves more questions than answers

February 11, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS |

  • $20,000 for the Salute to Independence event
  • $15,000 to The Salvation Army for construction of a new community recreation area
  • $10,500 to Bergman Eye Center as an incentive for a new building for creation of jobs
  • $10,000 to Capital Women’s Care as an incentive for a new building and expansion
  • $5,000 to sponsor a Take Flight II hot air balloon sculpture to benefit the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts
  • $3,115 to cover Sheriff’s Office overtime for the JFK 50 Mile Ultramarathon
  • $1,845 to cover Sheriff’s Office overtime for the Tour of Washington County bicycle event
  • $1,500 to the Washington County Historical Society for its 100th anniversary celebration commemorative book
In fiscal year 2011, the county also distributed $147,663 of hotel-motel tax revenue to the city of Hagerstown and $160,371 total to the eight towns, reports show.

The city used its share to make a $45,000 contribution to the museum project; to support the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, Discovery Station, Maryland Theatre, Hagerstown Municipal Band, Washington County Historical Society; and to fund events including fireworks at Fairgrounds Park and the Harvest Hoedown.

Towns reported using the funds for events such as National Night Out, July 4 celebrations, parades, Christmas events and, in Hancock, visitor center projects.

Looking to the future

Paul Swartz, a former county commissioner who was a leading supporter of a new stadium at the time the tax was raised, said Friday that even though a stadium project did not come to fruition at that time, it would have been wise for the county to set aside some of the increased hotel-motel tax revenue for a future stadium investment.

The increase “was basically for tourism, but it was also for the stadium, and they should have put some aside for the future,” Swartz said by phone from North Carolina, where he lives now. “That was my intent anyway.”

“It would be a nice chunk of change right now, 12 years later,” he added.

Swartz, who has been following the recent stadium discussions, said he still believes a new stadium would be a valuable economic development tool.

He attributes the failure to build a stadium 12 years ago to the idea’s unpopularity among residents.

“The educated constituents — I’ll say it that way — the ones that were in the business end of it and so forth definitely were in support of the venture of the stadium and so forth, but the people that made up the voting block probably convinced the other commissioners that maybe they’d better just hold off,” Swartz said.

Former Commissioner Ronald Bowers, who pushed for a stadium business park in 1998, said Friday he blames a lack of political will for the project’s failure to get off the ground in the past.

“You have to have the convictions of what you’re doing,” Bowers said. “I see a difference now. I see interested people and I see conviction.”

Shank said from his perspective, the key to a successful stadium project is a willingness by the team’s owner to make a substantial private contribution. He said in his view, the closest the community had come to a new stadium was in 2005, when owner Mandalay Sports Entertainment pledged several million dollars toward a stadium as part of an East End revitalization project.

The current situation seems more like that of the late 1990s and 2000, with owners looking to the public sector to pay the majority of the cost or potentially lose the team, Shank said.

“I’ve seen this movie before, and I’ve seen how it ends,” he said. “When I see a strong proposal from the local government and the private sector, then we’ll see what happens, but that hasn’t emerged yet.”

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