Adventure Sports Center International Now Part Of Garrett Co. Government

Mar. 29, 2012

It’s official. Garrett County government has taken ownership of the Adventure Sports Center International (ASCI). The county commissioners announced their decision during a press conference Tuesday morning at the courthouse. Their vote to accept the deed, operations, facilities, assets, and a portion of the man-made whitewater course’s debt was unanimous.

Effective March 27, the Marsh Mountain center is an agency/department of Garrett County government.


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About 50 local residents were on hand for the announcement, with many voicing their objections to the acquisition.

“I think you bought a white elephant,” Oakland area resident Steven Friend told the commissioners.

Mountain Lake Park mayor Leo Martin said he thought the commissioners made a bad decision.

“It’s going to put us in a mess for years,” Martin said.

ASCI Inc.’s board of directors, a nonprofit corporation, offered full title to all of its facilities to the commissioners on Jan. 5. But the offer included a $3 million debt. The board had borrowed the money from First United Bank & Trust and Susquehanna Bank to cover unexpected costs during the construction of the facility. ASCI became operational in 2007 through public (federal/state/county) and private funds amounting to about $24 million.

“Since that date (Jan. 5), the county has considered the ASCI offer, reviewed all information available to the county concerning ASCI’s facilities, its assets, its liabilities, its current and long-term value to the county and the community, and has consulted with ASCI’s financial partners,” Commissioner Gregan Crawford said.

He said the two banks agreed to accept the assignment of debt in the sum of $600,000 in full satisfaction of ASCI’s debt obligations. Crawford called the banks’ offer a “generous” opportunity to resolve the debt issue.

“Based upon the ASCI offer and with the assistance of the financial institutions, the county has agreed to terms with the ASCI board of directors, which will permit the county to operate ASCI,” he said.

The $600,000 will be split between the two banks and will come from the county budget’s general fund. The fund will be replenished through the local hotel/motel tax. The current tax rate is 5 percent, with the revenue allocated to the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce and Garrett County Department of Economic Development. In fiscal year 2011, the tax garnered $1.3 million for the county.

Local lawmakers introduced legislation in this year’s General Assembly session that would allow the commissioners to increase the tax to 6 percent.

The commissioners indicated in a press release that questions have been raised about the commissioners appropriating additional funds to prevent three elementary schools from closing.

“[The] accommodations tax cannot be used to fund the school system, so there will be no funding conflict,” Crawford said.

The commissioners stressed the importance of preserving taxpayers’ investment in ASCI and its economic potential to the county.

Since ASCI is a nonprofit, Crawford said, the county is one of the few institutions that could have stepped in and assumed ownership and control of the center.

Several residents asked the commissioners how they expected to be successful running the center when the ASCI board was not. Commissioner Jim Raley said the board could not make it profitable and pay down its debt at the same time.

“Once the debt is resolved, ASCI can begin to concentrate more of its resources on its core functions and end the preoccupation surrounding the debt solution,” Crawford said. “Because public funds were used, I firmly believe that we have a responsibility to make it succeed. The easy way out would be to turn our backs and walk away and watch $24 million of capital costs slip away. But whose interest would that serve then?”

Not counting the debt service, Commissioner Bob Gatto said, ASCI is able to cover its operations and labor costs, plus make a very small profit.

“We want to grow the facility,” Gatto said, noting that the center’s 550-acre Fork Run area could be used year-round for educational and recreational purposes. In addition to rafting, ASCI also offers rock climbing and mountain biking.

ASCI will open for the 2012 season on April 28. Crawford noted that 90 events are planned, including the SavageMan Triathalon and the Maryland Open Canoe and Kayak Championships. He indicated that educational opportunities for school children and college students will continue to grow, as well as international exposure. The International Canoe Federation will hold its world championships at ASCI in 2014.

“We cannot allow ourselves to give up on this project,” Raley said about ASCI. “I think this project is still in its infancy. I think we can grow this project, and I think if you work with us we can make that happen.”

But improvements to ASCI operations are needed, he indicated.

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'Conquer the Dam' to help raise funds for Meals on Wheels

News-Tribune
Posted Mar 28, 2012 @ 11:52 AM
KEYSER – Aging & Family Services of Mineral County is proud to announce “Conquer the Dam,” the first 5K fundraising run/walk at Jennings Randolph Lake.

Proceeds from this event, scheduled for Saturday, May 19, will support the Meals on Wheels program of Mineral County. Jennings Randolph Lake is a reservoir of 952 acres located on the North Branch Potomac River in Garrett County, Md., and Mineral County, W.Va. The lake was constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and construction was completed in 1981.

Originally named Bloomington Lake, it was later renamed for West Virginia Senator Jennings Randolph.

The highlight of the 5K run/walk will be that runners and walkers will travel over the dam and spillway, normally closed to public travel.

The event begins and ends at the top of the Howell Run Picnic area. There will be a downhill start and then cross the dam and then reverse direction with a slight uphill climb to the finish.

Cost is $20 early registration; $10 for those 14 years old and younger.
For more information, call 304-788-5467 or email lkitzmiller@wvaging.com.

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Garrett County commission agrees to take ownership of ASCI

Will pay $600,000 to secure debt

Elaine Blaisdell Cumberland Times-News

2012 — OAKLAND — On Tuesday, Garrett County commissioners voted unanimously to take ownership of Adventure Sports Center International and authorized the expenditure of $600,000 to secure the assignment of ASCI debts from Susquehanna Bank.

“We have basically changed the assignment of debt as of today. So the debt is really a repayment to the county,” said Chairman James Raley.

Susquehanna Bank will split the debt and distribute half to First United Bank & Trust, according to Commissioner Gregan Crawford.

“As part of that process, ASCI’s principal financial partners, First United Bank & Trust and Susquehanna Bank, proposed and offered a significant debt re-duction opportunity to the county in the event that the county accepted ASCI’s offer,” said Crawford. “The financial partners, who have contributed significantly to the process and the county’s consideration of this matter, have agreed to accept the assignment of debt in the sum of $600,000 in full satisfaction of ASCI’s debt obligations to those financial institutions.”

The $600,000 debt from ASCI will be paid with hotel/ motel accommodations tax revenue, according to Crawford.

The money for the debt came out of the general account to pay the banks, with the amortization coming out of the accommodations tax, according to Raley.

The accommodations tax is used to fund the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development, according to Crawford.

“Accommodations tax can not be used to fund the school system,” said Crawford. “Once this debt is resolved, ASCI can concentrate more of its resources on fulfilling its corps functions. As public funds were used, we have a responsibility to succeed. The easy way out would to turn our backs, walk away and watch $24 million in capital costs go away. Whose interest will that serve then.”

A bill that is currently in consideration in Annapolis would raise the accommodations tax from 5 percent to 6 percent, according to Raley.

“That bill has progressed and gotten favorable readings from Senate side and the House side,” said Crawford.

ASCI is a nonprofit and is home to a manmade whitewater course and Forks Run, a 550-acre recreation area. The original debt accrued by ASCI was $3 million.

“We can not allow ourselves to give up this project,” said Raley. “I think this project is still in its infancy. I think we can grow this project and I think if you work with us we can make that happen.”

On Jan. 5, the board of directors of ASCI offered the full title to the facilities to the commissioners. The commission has been deliberating this matter since then, according to Crawford.

“The county has reviewed all information concerning the ASCI’s facilities, including its assets, liabilities, long-term value to county and community and has consulted with ASCI’s financial partners,” said Crawford. “The taxpayers of this county, the state, the federal government have made significant investments in this property.”

The $17.7 million project was built with $6.1 million from the county, $5.8 million from the state and $2.6 million in federal funds, according to The Associated Press.

Before the public had a chance to ask the commissioners questions, Raley noted that he understood their concern over the county’s decision to assume ownership of ASCI.

“I do believe it has its best chance of success under the current setup,” said Raley. “It’s not done. We still have some work to do after today. But I want you to note they have been open discussions to the extent that they can be. I have read your emails. I have read your social media posts and I do understand what you are saying.”

Negotiations would have to be handled in executive session, according to Raley.

The majority of the business owners and residents that spoke at the press conference had a variety of questions and some made it clear they were not happy with the decision.

“I just think this is a bad decision. It’s going to put us in a mess for years,” said Mountain Lake Park Mayor Leo Martin.

Martin noted that he didn’t fully understand where the $600,000 was coming from. 

“That $600,000 is going to push something out of the budget sometime,” said Martin. “It has to, unless you are going to raise taxes. It’s the tax payers financing all of this. I think you guys need to speak in clear language about that.”

Raley reiterated that it was coming from the accommodations tax.

“The accommodations tax is up this year compared to other years. It has been another record year,” said Raley.

One resident questioned whether the general funds that are being used to pay the debt are taken from taxpayer money. Raley agreed that the general fund contained taxpayer money.

“We are using our funds (out of the general fund) to fund the payoff from the bank,” said Raley in response. “We are not borrowing money from the bank or paying the bank’s interest. We are using our own funds and they will be repaid,” said Raley, noting that it was a one time expenditure.

Raley encouraged residents to keep faith.

“I encourage you don’t give up. Think positive,” said Raley. “Roll up your sleeves like you do here in Garrett County. Let’s make it happen because we own it. It’s part of the Garrett County economic picture and the project is somewhat of the envy of many other places.”

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com

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Garrett sells building to GCC Technologies

Elaine Blaisdell Cumberland Times-News

2012 — OAKLAND — Garrett County has sold its Maryland Economic Development Corp. building, located at the Southern Garrett Business and Technology Park, to GCC Technologies LLC for $1.15 million, the county commissioners announced Tuesday.

“This is a big deal,” said Jim Hinebaugh, director of economic development, who thanked Jim Bailey, managing member and president of GCC, and Shirley Bailey, chief operating officer of GCC, for their investment. “GCC is a great model for economic development in a rural area.”

The 30,000-square foot building was sold for the same price paid by the county when it purchased the building from MEDCo in December, according to Monty Pagenhardt, county administrator.

“The proceeds from the sale to GCC Tech will be returned to the unassigned fund balance,” said Pagenhardt in an email to the Times-News. “We actually borrowed the funds to purchase the building from the unassigned fund balance (our reserves).”

GCC purchased the building with funding provided by the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, according to a press release.

“The purchase of this building fits well within our business plan and it’s certainly going to help us continue the growth pattern which I think we have had over the last few years,” said Jim Bailey.

GCC Tech started in 2007 on the Garrett College campus with 17 employees and has since grown to more than 200 employees, with 100 from the county, according to Hinebaugh.

Jobs with GCC range from senior business analyst to information technology specialist, according to Jim Bailey.

“We are offering, I believe, one of the most competitive salaries that you can find in Garrett County as well as a very good benefits program,” said Jim Bailey. “This wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for the support we have received from the local government, the economic development department that Jim has headed up.”

Over the next few weeks, GCC Tech will be awarding a contract for a build-out of the MEDCo building so GCC can consolidate and move in there, said Jim Bailey.

“We anticipate that build-out will take six months and that build-out will include employment of Garrett County employees,” said Jim Bailey. “We are excited about the growth opportunity here in the county and we make a commitment that we are going to continue that growth.”

GCC provides a wide range of technical and support services, including information technology, acquisition management, contract management, program management, training, studies and analysis and administrative support, according to Hinebaugh.

The GCC building located within the county mainly serves the Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Small Business Administration, according to Bailey.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.

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House approves 7.5 percent natural gas tax

Opponents of rate cap amendment: It isn’t enough money to provide regulatory oversight

Associated Press

2012 — BALTIMORE — House lawmakers Monday night passed a 7.5 percent state severance tax on natural gas in a 82-51 vote, after delegates on Saturday fended off an amendment from Delegate Wendell Beitzel, R-Garrett, that would cap state and local taxes on natural gas extraction at 7.5 percent combined.

“The amendment would incorporate all severance taxes,” Beitzel said. “Local, county and state taxes together could not exceed 7.5 percent.”

Garrett County currently has a severance tax of 5.5 percent, which means the state could assess a severance tax of only 2 percent under Beitzel’s amendment. Allegany County’s severance tax of 7 percent would limit the state’s share to just 0.5 percent.

Higher rates were needed to enforce regulations, proponents say.

Delegate Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore City, chair of the House Environmental Matters Committee and a sponsor of the severance tax, said applying different rates to every county would create administrative problems. She also said the 7.5 percent cap Beitzel proposed would not provide enough money for the regulatory oversight needed to protect human health and the environment.

“Limiting the state to .05 percent would be wrong,” McIntosh said. “It’s going to be the state that’s called for environmental cleanup and for other kinds of issues that happen … when drilling begins.”

McIntosh suggested that Garrett and Allegany counties could lower their severance taxes to make the tax more “reasonable” to gas companies.

The 7.5 percent tax was amended down from 15 percent by the House Ways and Means Committee on March 20 by a vote of 16-5.

The severance tax is primarily aimed at Marcellus shale exploration, which requires the process of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to free gas trapped in shale formations deep in the Earth’s surface. But the 7.5 percent severance tax will also apply to conventional gas wells that are not drilled using the fracking method.

Fracking has been blamed for contamination of groundwater in Pennsylvania and New York over the last decade, where Marcellus Shale exploration has been the most active.

New York placed a moratorium on fracking three years ago until it could be regulated. Lawmakers there are now poised to lift the moratorium.

Delegate Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, was concerned that a 7.5 percent state severance tax on top of local taxes would scare away natural gas exploration to neighboring states that charge a much lower severance tax — or none at all.

Pennsylvania has no severance tax and West Virginia recently passed a severance tax of 5 percent.

“I think you should have a severance tax that helps cover the costs of (oversight),” McIntosh responded — pointing to problems with shale drilling in New York and Pennsylvania.

She said the gas companies would still come to Western Maryland, even with the 7.5 percent state severance tax.

Beitzel’s amendment failed by a vote of 43-78.

Marcellus shale drilling could begin as early as August 2014 after the study is complete.

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O'Malley bill to limit septic systems clears Senate

By Annie Linskey and Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

9:09 p.m. EDT, March 27, 2012

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s bill to curb sprawl by limiting septic systems — a key piece of his legislative agenda — cleared the Maryland Senate Monday, albeit in a weakened form.

The measure aims to slow the pace of development of the state’s farmlands, forests and other rural areas. It also would reduce pollution from septic systems into the Chesapeake Bay. Getting Senate approval for the legislation is a significant step for the governor, who wasn’t able to get a similar bill out of committee last year. The measure goes now to the House of Delegates, where supporters are optimistic.

O’Malley initially sought a stronger bill that would let the state determine whether new developments could be built in rural areas. Last week he accepted a compromise supported by conservative Democrats and Republicans that keeps the final say on development in local hands.

“We are still achieving the public policy objectives,” said Maryland Planning Secretary Richard E. Hall. “I still think the bill does what it sets out to do. … It is very much intact.”

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New Md. poll reveals caution on fracking

Matthew Bieniek Cumberland Times-News

2012 — CUMBERLAND — A new poll shows a strong majority of Marylanders favor a cautious approach on the use of fracking to drill for natural gas in the Marcellus shale in the western portion of the state.

The poll contrasts sharply with previous industry-funded polls on natural gas drilling, and there’s a reason for that, said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

“The message Maryland voters are sending is that second chances are rare and expensive,” Tidwell said. Pennsylvania is now trying to do studies after permitting drilling.

“We want to do the opposite in Maryland,” he said. Citizens want the industry to pay for the studies, Tidwell said.

“I haven’t seen an industry-funded poll that asked Maryland voters about contaminated water … water quality or the concerns people in Pennsylvania have experienced over fracking,” Tidwell said.

In fact, one of the reasons his organization commissioned the poll by OpinionWorks was to combat the impression given by the industry polls. “We felt there was a gap,” he said.

The industry polls avoided questions about fracking or the chemicals used in fracking.

“There are no such things as perfect energy resources,” Tidwell said. “The gas industry only wants to ask you, ‘Do you want jobs, money and royalties?’”

Fundamentally, the results show Marylanders want to have studies done before any drilling in Marcellus shale begins.

In Western Maryland, 65 percent of voters also answered yes to the question on studies.

The poll only asked two questions, the first was: “Do you think the state of Maryland should or should not conduct studies to develop what are known as ‘best practices’ guidelines — including environmental protection guidelines — for energy companies to follow before permitting hydraulic fracturing when drilling for natural gas in Maryland?”

This question brought a 71 percent “yes” response, according to the poll results.

The second poll question was: “If such studies were required, should the energy companies or the taxpayers pay for them?” That question brought an 81 percent “yes” response, according to the poll results.

“Any numbers this high are rare,” Tidwell said. “Policymakers and reform advocates say the polling numbers show that the Maryland state Senate should follow the House of Delegates lead and immediately pass HB 1204 to fund safety studies related to fracking for gas,” a press release from the network said.

“This poll confirms what I’ve heard in every corner of the state — that from Baltimore City to Deep Creek Lake — Marylanders overwhelmingly support our go-slow approach to fracking,” said Delegate Heather Mizeur, sponsor of House Bill 1204.

The legislation to fund fracking studies passed by a wide majority in the House last week. “Taxpayers deserve the peace of mind that comes from scientific review of this controversial drilling practice and they shouldn’t be stuck footing the bill to pay for it,” said Mizeur.

“The results of the oll showed significant support for studies to develop fracking guidelines among every voter subgroup — including Republicans. Sixty-seven percent of Republicans and 74 percent of Democrats supported conducting studies,” the press release stated.

The poll had a 4 percent margin of error.

º“Education regarding shale development is a slow process due to the diverse range of issues involved,” said CitizenShale.org President Eric Robison. “Nationally and statewide, the awareness has grown mainly due to concerns about drinking water. Why should Eastern Marylanders be concerned? The answer is that some of their drinking water originates in headwaters in Pennsylvania, where regulations have been lacking. Maryland needs to address not just water quality, but air quality and environmental concerns — to name but a few of the issues voiced nationally.”

The total value of the natural gas in Allegany County’s Marcellus shale could be close to $15.72 billion, with the average well earning $65,000 to $524,000 yearly, University of Maryland Extension staff has said.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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Home prices unchanged in January: S&P

NEW YORK | Tue Mar 27, 2012 9:41am EDT

(Reuters) – Single-family home prices were unchanged in January, a closely watched survey said on Tuesday, suggesting the battered housing market continues to crawl along the bottom.

The S&P/Case-Shiller composite index of 20 metropolitan areas was flat in January on a seasonally adjusted basis. A Reuters poll of economists forecast a decline of 0.2 percent after December’s 0.5 percent drop.

The flat reading broke a five-month string of declines as the market has been pressured by a low demand, distressed sales and an overhang of pending foreclosures.

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College Officials Stress Importance Of Garrett Co., Foundation Scholarships

Mar. 22, 2012

The Garrett County commissioners received an update report on the county scholarship program from Garrett College officials on Monday afternoon. They noted its benefits and stressed the importance of maintaining both the county and privately funded Garrett College Foundation scholarship programs.

“Garrett County Scholarship recipients perform better academically than the college’s overall student population,” GC president Dr. Richard MacLennan reported. “For the fall 2011 semester, the mean grade point average for scholarship recipients was 2.86, while the mean GPA for the college’s overall student population was 2.19.”


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The Garrett County Scholarship program was initiated and approved by a previous board of county commissioners in fall 2006. Under the county-funded program, all current local high school graduates may apply for academic or occupational scholarships to attend Garrett College for two years. Eligibility requirements include being enrolled full time in a degree or trades program and maintaining at least a 2.0 grade point average.

“We hold our county scholarship recipient students to a higher standard of performance than we do our general student population or the students who receive Title IV financial aid,” MacLennan said.

Interim dean of instruction Jim Allen noted that federal financial aid students are required to maintain at least a 1.75 GPA.

“So [our] standard is higher,” Allen said.

MacLennan reported there are 169 county scholarship students enrolled this semester. Last fall there were 189 students, but 20 did not meet the GPA requirement going into the spring semester.

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Art Is Elementary!


Mar. 22, 2012

That is the title of an art exhibit made up of works created by the county’s elementary school students now on display at the Gallery Shop of the Garrett County Arts Council in downtown Oakland. The exhibit features the work of 90 different area students from pre-kindergarten through 5th grade.


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“This exhibit is a celebration of color and imagination,” said Karen Reckner, executive director of the arts council. “The children have expressed themselves in their own fun and unique ways.” Pictured above left is a painting by Lori Lytle, a second grader at Friendsville Elementary School, and at right is a collage work by Alexia Wolf, a first grader of Kitzmiller Elementary. In addition to paintings and collages, the exhibit includes yarn art and re-purposed items such as sea shells and buttons. Some students created self-portraits, and others worked to recreate the style of master artists. The exhibit will be on display through March 30. The public is encouraged to visit. The gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For more information, persons may call 301-334-6580.

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