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Hagerstown City Council give preliminary OK to bonds

Councilman Martin E. Brubaker says that doesn't mean stadium is a done deal

August 07, 2012

The Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to sell $9.08 million in municipal bonds to finance 22 long-term city of Hagerstown projects, including $4.42 million for preliminary work for a proposed downtown multiuse sports and events center.

But that does not mean the stadium is a done deal, a city councilman said.

Councilman Martin E. Brubaker said the funds acquired through the potential bond sale would be needed for early-stage tasks for the stadium, such as purchasing land and site planning, but only if the project moves forward.

“If we don’t begin to plan now to get those funds on hand, we would have delays if the project continues to move forward,” Brubaker said. “We have not approved moving the stadium finally and officially, either in planning or financing.”

Whether planning for the stadium moves forward remains to be seen.

City officials have been working on a new long-term lease to keep the Hagerstown Suns baseball team, the proposed ballpark’s primary tenant, but it’s not clear exactly when that deal could be done.

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Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said recently that mid-August was the target date to have the framework of a lease completed to share with Suns majority owner Bruce Quinn.

The mayor and five-member council met in executive session for about 85 minutes prior to Tuesday’s work session, but did not supply any updates on the process.

Quinn has been considering moving the low-level Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals to Winchester, Va., but the owner has delayed making a decision to stay or go.

If the bond sale gains final approval, which won’t be until city staff and attorneys discuss numerous legal issues and sale parameters, Brubaker said the funds would help pay for numerous projects that have a long service life that often outlasts the 15- or 20-year bond repayment period.

Most of the items preliminarily approved were included in the city’s long-term plans that were approved in May, he said, which includes water and sewer system upgrades, and money to refurbish parts of the Potomac Street parking deck.

It would be the first time the city has used municipal bonds to fund general fund expenditures in the past two or three years, Brubaker said. Typically, bond financing is used to pay for user-funded items, such as upgrades to the city’s water and sewer systems, he said.

“We approved funds to firetrucks, for parks and for the stadium, but the stadium bonds can still be changed,” he said of the general fund items. “It’s only preliminary planning, and it’s only a small portion for designing and initial improvements.”

Included in the $5.39 million for general fund items would be $250,000 to go toward purchasing and demolishing the former Municipal Electric Light Plan, or MELP, which city officials have called an eyesore and have wanted to take down for years.

“If we can do that, it would be a benefit to the community and we need to have that money in contingency in case that project comes to fruition,” Brubaker said of potentially leveling the hulking condemned structure that contains loose asbestos.

With preliminary approval from the five-member council, the city’s finance director can now discuss the projects with legal counsel and begin laying out the framework of the bonds, Brubaker said.

Final approval is not expected until September or October, he said.

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