Baseball proposal kept alive by commissioners

They want to seek funding alternatives to admissions tax

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

Updated: July 26, 2011, 8:09 PM

 
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Baseball Letter of Intent

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A plan to bring baseball to Vancouver was kept alive Tuesday, but county commissioners said they want to consider funding alternatives to a countywide 5 percent admissions tax.

Commissioners Marc Boldt and Steve Stuart voted to sign a letter of intent with Short Season LLC, the owners of the Yakima Bears.

Commissioner Tom Mielke, who does not support the project, voted against signing the nonbinding letter.

The next commissioners’ meeting on the subject will be a work session on the financing at 10 a.m. Aug. 24 at the Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St.

The letter of intent spells out the steps that need to happen to get a multiuse stadium built at Clark College and ready for opening day in June 2012.

The letter references an entertainment tax that would be used to help pay off construction debt.

In exchange for public money, the public would be able to use the facility.

The commissioners, and the Vancouver City Council, have heard from residents who don’t think an admissions tax is fair because it would force people competing with the baseball team for entertainment dollars (from operators of movie theaters to the Washougal Motocross) to help pay for the stadium.

Stuart asked Bronson Potter, the county’s chief civil deputy prosecutor, if the letter of intent prevents the county from exploring other financing options.

No, Potter said.

On Monday, a majority of the Vancouver City Council expressed reservations, if not flat-out objection, to an admissions tax.

No specific funding alternative has been publicly identified.

When the proposal was made public in May, the team said it sought the admissions tax, as opposed to a sales tax, because it would be a tax on discretionary spending.

Tax criticized

Among the people speaking out against the use of an admissions tax Tuesday was former Clark County Commissioner Betty Sue Morris.

Morris served three four-year terms on the board. Her seat went to Mielke after she did not seek re-election in 2008.

Like many people who’ve spoken against the proposal, Morris said professional baseball would be a great addition to the community.

However, “there needs to be a different financing mechanism,” she said.

Revenues from an admissions tax should be used for basic services the county’s obligated to provide, she said, such as public safety.

A county estimate calculated that a 5 percent tax could raise approximately $900,000 a year, with the majority of it coming from movie tickets (estimated at $650,000 a year; a $10 movie ticket would cost $10.50 under the tax).

The Vancouver Symphony has asked to be excluded, and commissioners will have to decide whether to exclude all nonprofit organizations.

The admissions tax, even if approved by Stuart and Boldt, could be effectively killed by the Vancouver City Council.

County Administrator Bill Barron has told commissioners that all of the cities would have to agree to the tax; if cities enacted their own tax, it would take the revenue away from the county.

County budget analyst Adriana Prata has calculated that 63 percent of the revenues would be collected within Vancouver city limits.

On Tuesday, Morris said it would be a bad risk for the county and the team to go ahead and build the stadium if the Vancouver City Council doesn’t agree with the tax.

Morris also attended the city council’s workshop on Monday.

“They did not sound very excited last night,” she said.

Pro and con speakers

Of 10 people who spoke to commissioners Tuesday, seven were against the proposal because of the tax.

Vancouver resident Paul Hammond encouraged commissioners to support the proposal.

He said he used to go to about a dozen Portland Beavers games a year, meaning his Clark County money was being spent in Portland.

“I would like to see that reversed,” he said. He said very few stadiums are privately financed and, while an admissions tax might be less than ideal, he doesn’t want to lose the chance to have professional baseball in Vancouver.

The Yakima Bears, a short-season Class A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, have exclusive negotiating rights in the biggest open market in the country. Proponents have said that a team will land somewhere in the Portland area, and Vancouver needs to seize the chance to get a team.

“I don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good,” Hammond said.

Mike Bomar, executive director of the Southwest Washington Contractors Association and creator of a Facebook page that has drummed up local support, told commissioners that they need to look beyond the current economic climate.

“As policymakers, your focus is on the future,” Bomar said.

Dick Malin of the Central Park neighborhood was among those who spoke out against the tax.

He cited a 2010 Washington Post article headlined, “There’s no joy in Mudville, after all,” that included the sentence, “From New York to Florida to Arizona, some taxpayers are opposing agreements to fund baseball projects after a decadeslong boom in publicly financed ballparks.”

According to the letter of intent approved by commissioners, beyond the work session on the financing, the next steps include working on a lease agreement with Clark College.

The proposed $23 million stadium would have 3,500 to 4,000 seats and would be publicly owned but privately maintained.

Ron Arp, a spokesman for Short Season LLC, said the team would own the stadium until the debt is retired. Then either the county, college or another public entity would own it.

“This will be worked out in the future with input from all people, including the attorney general,” Arp said.

Owners would like to start construction in November and have the stadium ready by June 2012.

The stadium would be built east of Interstate 5 at the site of Clark College’s current baseball field.

The Bears would play 38 home games a year.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.