A ‘radical departure’ from the stadium funding plan

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Our June vote in opposition to changing the funding plan for construction of the baseball stadium in no way diminished our support for the project.

The 3-2 vote does reflect, however, a fundamental difference on the best way to finance this economic development project under the county’s bonding authority. The vote to change the funding plan for construction of the baseball stadium was a close one, because we believe this new plan is a radical departure from the original funding strategy.

In our view, the new approach, despite its best intentions, unnecessarily increases the county’s exposure to long-term debt liability for this project.

As it stands now all the money to build the stadium is coming from the taxpayers; nothing is coming from the owners. This project was intended to be a partnership, a shared investment with each partner sharing the risk and funding a third of the cost for construction.

The supporters of this creative financing plan, as it has been described, make the case that costs saved by Maryland Baseball LLC by not using commercial lending can be applied to increasing the contingency fund for any unexpected costs. It’s our position that the ‘‘not to exceed contract clause” protects the county from large overruns by placing the burden on the construction company to perform and deliver a quality product within the contract costs amounts. Even with this clause, the county included in the contract $600,000 for unforeseen adjustments.

Supporters will argue there is precedent for using our low-interest bonding authority to fund capital projects to help the private sector. This is true; however, the use has primarily been to finance critical infrastructure projects such as roads in partnership with American Community Properties Trust at full collateral and the Civista Medical Center.

The stadium does not fall into that category, and from our perspective the taxpayers should not bear the full risk of using its bonding authority to benefit a private company, especially in this particular circumstance since the owners refused to provide an independent auditor or fiscal statements to the county ensuring it had assets to cover the amount of the bonds.

This board of commissioners is a team, and therefore we respect the position taken by our fellow commissioners on this funding plan. That’s why it is somewhat disappointing to read the gratuitous criticism by our colleagues of our vote of conscience on the funding plan and their strident defense of their vote to have the taxpayers assume the burden of financing Maryland Baseball LLC’s share of the construction cost in their July 8 letter to The Washington Post.

But despite this disagreement on strategies, our support for the stadium remains firm, and we believe it will benefit the citizens of Charles County. It is our duty as commissioners to minimize the risk to the county, and we stand by our vote and believe that exercising prudent fiscal stewardship of the taxpayers’ money is our first responsibility when considering investing in any economic development project.

F. Wayne Cooperand Edith J. Patterson, La Plata