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Aberdeen seeks to delay budget

The Baltimore Sun

With talks under way to sell its minor league Ripken Stadium, Aberdeen's City Council is considering ways to delay writing a budget for the next fiscal year until the disposition of the money-losing facility is clear.

Unloading hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual losses caused by debt payments on the stadium would drastically alter the outlook of the city's estimated $16 million budget, said Douglas R. Miller, the city manager.

"What we're doing now is just kind of putting the budget preparation in neutral," he said.

City Councilwoman Ruth Elliott said the city's charter requires that the budget be submitted by May 1, though the council could amend the charter. Miller said the city is likely to seek a charter amendment allowing extra time -- perhaps two weeks -- for him to monitor the Ripken Stadium discussions before submitting a budget.

The Sun reported last week that Aberdeen was shopping the stadium and Cal Ripken Jr. has emerged as the preferred buyer. The $18 million stadium, home to Ripken's Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds, has been a regular money loser for the city, due in part to the failure of an adjacent development to take shape.

"I don't know why we're really talking about this at this point when there's too many other factors to consider," said Elliott, who opposes a budget delay. "You don't amend the charter because you're a little late with the budget."

Officials continue to wade through the various encumbrances associated with the original financing deal for construction of the stadium. And while a deal with Ripken is unlikely to be finalized in the next few weeks, officials could get a better sense of whether an agreement could be struck in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

"We'll know more," City Councilman Michael G. Hiob said. "We'll have a better feel for what direction it's going -- not only that, but the time frame. If it looks positive that we will be able to sell the stadium to Ripken, then we can prepare a budget accordingly."

Mayor S. Fred Simmons said it is unlikely that the city would alter its budget outlook to reflect a sale that is not imminent. He said he has not received enough assurance from the state or county that their respective contributions to the project can be passed to a private company. The potential boost to the city if a sale occurs is more than $500,000 in annual savings from expenses the city incurs to maintain the building and pay off its debt, he said.

"When you take a small municipality like Aberdeen and take $500,000, think about how many cars that is, think what it could do for infrastructure. That's more than 6 cents on the tax rate," Simmons said.

The city contributed $4.8 million in bonds issued through the state; Harford County contributed $2 million. The state and Ripken Baseball Inc. each contributed $6 million.

Some components of a potential deal have emerged in the past two weeks. Del. Mary-Dulaney James, a Democrat who represents Aberdeen, said it appears likely that the state Board of Public Works would have to sign off on any deal, while Simmons has said that the city is exploring a payment in lieu of property taxes. A sale to the state or Maryland Stadium Authority has been ruled out by Gov. Martin O'Malley.

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