Commissioners vote to indirectly contribute $400K a year for downtown Hagerstown stadium

By 3-2 vote, county agrees to take over city's annual contribution to 911 center

May 01, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS |

HAGERSTOWN — After about an hour of debate Tuesday, the Washington County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to contribute $400,000 per year to a multiuse stadium in downtown Hagerstown.

Rather than make a direct contribution, the county will take over the city’s current $405,603-a-year contribution to the county’s consolidated 911 emergency communications center, the commissioners decided.

The shift will allow the city to divert the money it had been paying for the 911 center to downtown revitalization projects, County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said.

The money would probably go toward the stadium for 20 years, but the county is assuming the 911 center costs permanently, Murray said.


Commissioners John F. Barr, William B. McKinley and Ruth Anne Callaham voted in favor of the contribution. Commissioners Terry Baker and Jeffrey A. Cline voted against it.

Baker and Cline said before the vote that they had unresolved concerns about the project.

Baker also outlined a list of conditions for his support, including agreements by the commissioners to reduce county borrowing and purchase the Mount Aetna Farms property.

Barr said he had heard there were concerns that his ownership of business property near the proposed stadium site at the corner of Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue presented a potential conflict of interest.

Barr owns Ellsworth Electric at 88 West Lee St., about 500 feet from the proposed site.

However, Barr said a stadium at that site “would not benefit me or my business in any manner differently than it would any other downtown property owner or citizen.”

In fact, Barr said he is “extremely concerned” about the traffic congestion and noise that would be imposed on his business.

“That location is not my first choice, but I think Mr. Murray’s put together a very good plan; it fits in our business model and financial model,” Barr said before making the motion to move forward with the plan.

Murray said a very conservative analysis predicts a 2.5 percent per year return on the county’s investment over the first 10 years, in the form of increased property tax revenue from increased assessments within a quarter-mile of the stadium.

The county will take over the city’s 911 center costs beginning in 2015 or 2016, Murray said.

Murray said he recommended the indirect contribution so the county would remain at arms-length and would not have debt tied up in a city project.

On the other hand, the 911 center is “our operation, it’s our employees, it’s our structure, equipment, etc.,” and, therefore, it makes sense for the county to absorb its operating costs, he said.

The city is the only municipality that contributes to the 911 center, he said.

The city had been contributing to the center since it opened in January 2010, bringing former Hagerstown police dispatchers into the same operation with county emergency services and Washington County Sheriff’s Office dispatchers.

The county’s absorption of the 911 center costs would continue perpetually because even after the stadium is paid off, “there’s reconstruction, there’s capital projects, there’s maintenance, there’s other downtown revitalization, etc.,” for which the city could use the money, Murray said.

He also noted that $400,000 a year is roughly equivalent to the amount of hotel-motel tax revenue generated each year by the extra 3 percent added to that tax rate amid stadium discussions in 2000.

Baker’s proposal

Baker handed out a proposal for contributing to the stadium through savings realized by scaling back capital projects and reducing borrowing. His plan would:

  • Limit borrowing to $12 million for fiscal 2013 and $10.5 million for fiscal 2014 and 2015, by eliminating a Robinwood Drive-widening project.
  • Scale back or eliminate the Yale Drive extension project and use the savings, together with school acquisition money, to purchase the Mount Aetna Farms property, part of which could be used for a future high school.
  • Complete the senior center project as designed using library contingency money to cover the funding gap.
  • Give employees a raise instead of a one-time $600 payment.
  • “Do something for our forgotten retirees.”

“I love sports and I do want to continue seeing the Suns in Hagerstown, but for me to support it, I need to see something that’s going to really, really benefit us all, and this plan pulls our county back together,” Baker said. “I believe our county’s falling apart, and this pulls us back together.”

Cline said he supported Baker’s plan, but also spoke of the need for more public input and answers to many unresolved questions about the project, including where the county would relocate the offices in its 80 W. Baltimore St. building, which would be demolished to make way for the stadium.

Cline also said he would want to see a ratified lease from the Suns and a guarantee of state funding.

“I think what we look like are a bunch of elected officials saying, ‘Let’s build it, we’ll fix it later, and the citizens will pay the consequences,’” Cline said.

Baker said he agreed with Cline.

How they voted

Terry Baker — no
John F. Barr —
Ruth Anne Callaham —
Jeffrey A. Cline —
William B. McKinley—

Editor’s note:
An earlier online version of this story gave an incorrect time limit and total cap for the county contribution. The actual agreement was to assume the $400,000-a-year 911 center costs in perpetuity.

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