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County funding up in air for newest stadium proposal

Washington County originally agreed to take over city's annual $400,000 payment for the county 911 center

December 12, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

Time is running short for City of Hagerstown officials to request money from the state in support of a stadium project that would keep the Hagerstown Suns.

But now, after a new stadium proposal made Tuesday by Suns majority owner Bruce Quinn for a facility that may not be built in the city’s core, there’s no guarantee — at this point — that the $400,000-a-year contribution from Washington County would be available anymore, either.

Quinn’s plan, albeit just a concept, assumed that the county’s portion and another large chunk from the state would factor into a 20-year debt service model on a $21 million to $22 million facility to be built possibly somewhere in the city’s East End.

“The solution I presented to council was based on all the available financial information we have been privy to,” Quinn said in an email Wednesday night. “If financial details have changed, I am unaware of it.

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The Suns and Nationals remain optimistic that a deal on the East End can be completed before April 1.”

In conjunction with $400,000 a year from the city, the county commissioners in May agreed to take over the city’s annual $400,000 payment for the county 911 center, relieving that financial burden and allowing the city $800,000 to be used toward the downtown stadium project.

If the city goes with another location for a stadium, the county commissioners would need to again discuss the project and vote to approve the reappropriation of their contribution, County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said Wednesday.

“The intent of that (funding agreement) and what was presented when they approved that was for downtown revitalization, and specifically starting with a stadium downtown,” Murray said. “If indeed another concept is derived, whether it’s a stadium or something else, it would not automatically transfer to that project.”

Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham said the money was “never set in stone” and the previous agreement simply allowed the commissioners to work that $400,000 relief payment on behalf of the city into their budget for future years.

In any case, Callaham said the county’s contribution on another project might be available if it could boost property tax values “sufficiently in a short enough term” to recover their investment in a reasonable amount of time.

Speaking only for herself and not the commission as a whole, Callaham said she feels like time has run out for the county to provide any monetary relief in the upcoming fiscal year for such a project because the $400,000 originally discussed is a budget item — not a direct monetary contribution — that would need to be approved in the county’s fiscal year 2013-14 budget by early May.

“Whatever we said then still has to pass through the budget,” she said. “I think we are people of integrity, so had the plan moved forward as it was presented then, we would have voted that into our budget. But ... the budget process is beginning now — we’ll start in earnest in January — and as we approach that date to pass our FY14 budget, we will have to look at where’s the proposal now, where’s the study now for the definitive recovery of investment.”

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said his recollection of the original agreement was for “downtown redevelopment” and he’s aware that the county is in no way committed to a contribution for just “a stadium.”

“That doesn’t mean they would not do it, and I would love to think that they would, but that ... would require consultation with them and to see if we have at least three commissioners who would support such an idea,” Metzner said. “I would hope that they would because this is more than just a city endeavor, but they clearly would have to have another vote.”

Hagerstown Mayor David S. Gysberts said Tuesday that he and the five-member city council intend to make the stadium issue a priority moving forward into January, with the first discussion set to take place Jan. 8.

Quinn told city officials Tuesday that he would like to forge a deal with the city prior to the first pitch of the 2013 baseball season because he’s at risk of losing his affiliation with the Washington Nationals and business is suffering from the uncertainty surrounding the club’s future in Hagerstown.

The city would need to identify its new site — which could include Hager Park or one of the blighted industrial properties in the East End as suggested by Quinn — and have a study completed before the county could get behind a different project, Callaham said.

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