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.
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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