Sponsorship and Budget Issues – Hagerstown Work Session Recap

HAGERSTOWN – The first of two Tuesday, 7 May 2024, meetings opened with a work session featuring several proclamations designating May as Building Safety Month, Go Green for Mental Health Month, and National Cities, Towns, and Villages Month. In addition, the Council recognized Horizon Goodwill Industries Week, which took place from May 5 through May 11.

Director of Public Works Eric Deike presented the 2024 Hagerstown Ice & Sports Complex annual report along with Paul Sweeney, the Board Chair of the Hagerstown Ice Amateur Athletic Association (HIAAA). The facility has high usage for multiple activities, such as hockey, sled hockey, public skating, adult leagues, and junior programs. The ice and boards are currently in good physical condition and the facility is operating in the black. However, several key pieces of equipment have not been updated in over 25 years and must be replaced. The most crucial of these capital improvement projects is the renovation of the ice cooling system, which is estimated to cost around $1.2-2 million. Under the current User Agreement between the City and HIAAA, this cost will be split 75/25 percent respectively, meaning HIAAA will have to pay around $500,000 by means of fundraisers or other sources of income. Additionally, the complex plans to add another sheet of ice to increase capacity.

Alesia Parson-McBean, Projects Director at the Doleman Black Heritage Museum (DBHM) appeared before the Council to provide updates on the state of their future home and to request a sponsorship in the amount of $10,500. These funds will go toward entertainment artists, program design, and printing for their 2024 Juneteenth Celebration event beginning on June 14. According to Parson-McBean, this sponsorship has been made necessary due to financial setbacks posed by the Covid pandemic. However, much of the discussion was taken up by Parson-McBean expressing disappointment that the City wasn’t offering more in terms of finances and other resources. She felt that the City should run the Juneteenth celebration as an official holiday, and that members of the community should know the cultural significance of the event, stating, “We’re not going to waste the valuable time that we have as a Black community…educating people that don’t know [what Juneteenth is]. We’re celebrating. This holiday is about celebrating the survival of a people.” She reprimanded the Council for not running the event in the past, saying, “I don’t want to have to do this again. I want the City to do this.”

Councilmember Shelley McIntire, along with several other Council members and Mayor Tekesha Martinez, agreed with Parson-McBean’s sentiments. However, she also pointed out that the Council tries to be “fair and equitable” when it comes to sponsorships for events. Parson-McBean responded, “I don’t like hearing ‘fair and equitable’ when you’re talking about events that you do in this city, because…you all haven’t done one Juneteenth event…[and] we’ve not been [given reparations] as a people.” She referenced the history of slavery in the United States and highlighted this as one of the reasons that the Council should discuss increasing resources for DBHM. Councilmember Tiara Burnett suggested that a future administration could add the museum to the list of nonprofits who receive annual funding, while Councilmember Kristin Aleshire pointed out that if Hagerstown decided to run Juneteenth as a city-wide holiday, they would need to determine the overall cost, coordinate with other entities, and designate a committee to oversee it. City Administrator Scott Nicewarner stated that he didn’t want their limited staff to have to dictate another event, and would prefer to provide the museum with more resources so they could run the event themselves. The Council generally agreed to discuss the matter further in the future.

Chief Financial Officer Michelle Hepburn appeared before the Council once again to review the health insurance fund and the electric fund as presented in the FY25 budget. Health insurance costs have increased dramatically, averaging $9.2 million from FY23-25. Because of this, Hepburn recommended that Council discuss ways to implement changes in the health program if they want to keep a robust health insurance plan and a retiree benefit. The service charges and operating expenses in the electric fund both total about $28.4 million, with the new wholesale power contract accounting for about 75-76% of the former. Both funds have the potential to go into the negative if changes aren’t adapted.

In addition to discussing the budget, Hepburn also brought the Council up to speed on staff’s issuance of a 2024 bond series. The anticipated amount to be issued for 2024 is estimated at about $26.5 million, with $15.9 million needed in the General Fund for the Hagerstown Field House and $10.6 million needed in the Parking Fund for the HUB Parking Garage. The introduction of the ordinance for the Field House’s new bond issue will occur on May 21, with the adoption of the ordinance occurring on May 28. On July 16, the Council will be presented with an adoption of the resolution for the Hagerstown Field House new bond issue and the HUB Parking Garage 2023 BAN refinance.

Economic Development Specialist Christopher Siemerling reviewed a draft Request for Proposals (RFP) for an unspecified vendor to modernize the Department of Community & Economic Development’s grant process and establish a portal for applicants to submit their digital grant applications, thereby making the entire operation more efficient. The RFP will be posted on May 29, and the deadline for vendor submittals will be placed somewhere in early August of 2024.

City Engineer Jim Bender offered a review of the proposed changes to Chapter 117 of the City Code regarding trash and recycling. These revisions include: a mandate that all trash be placed inside the City-issued trash carts to comply with automated collection equipment, beginning on July 1, 2024; a clarification of conditions under which certain commercial properties can receive City collection service; a limit on the number of residential units on a single property that qualify for collection, as well as an allowance for the City Engineer to make service determinations on a case-by-case basis; and a clean-up of definitions and terms used throughout the Chapter. An ordinance will be introduced at the regular session later this month.

Bender stayed at the table to present several matters concerning the newly developed Meritus Park. The Council accepted a deed from the Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA) to convey the relocated Cultural Trail back to the City following the stadium’s construction, as well as an easement agreement for certain City facilities that run through the Meritus Park property, such as underground storm drainage and electrical lines. The Council also considered exempting the fireworks shows that Downtown Baseball and the Flying Boxcars plan to hold after certain home games from the City’s Noise Ordinance, with the caveat that each date and time for such events are clearly designated.

Nicewarner concluded the session by updating the Council on the lawsuit investigating the causes of the opioid epidemic. He received permission from the Council that they be included in an amendment adding the roles of pharmacy benefit managers to the investigation.