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The Lancaster Event Center. (LJS File)

Plans for an expansion of the Lancaster Event Center moved forward Tuesday, though not without an airing of issues and a few accusations along the way.

The Lancaster County Board of Commissioners formally signed off on issuing up to $10 million in bonds for the project and for the refinancing of the center’s existing debt.

The board also directed its two representatives on the Lancaster County Fairgrounds Joint Public Agency — Bernie Heier and Bob Workman — to vote for a revised agreement that lays out the obligations of the agency and the Lancaster County Agricultural Society. The other members of the agency are from the Ag Society.

The joint public agency was created in 2000 to issue bonds for the capital improvements at the fairgrounds.

The plans moved ahead on a 3-1 vote. Commissioner Deb Schorr abstained from the vote, as she has with other Event Center decisions, because her husband and Alan Wood, the attorney representing the Ag Society, are law partners.

The dissenting vote came from Commissioner Ray Stevens, who voted against the initial plans in July and has said he doesn’t believe the project is a good use of taxpayers’ money.

Taxpayers will pay off the bonds over the next 20 years. The resolution approved Tuesday states that the levy to pay off the bonds “is not presently expected” to exceed 42 cents per $100 of valuation, which works out to $4.20 annually on a $100,000 home, assuming the home’s valuation doesn’t change.

Stevens continued his criticisms Tuesday.  He accused the Ag Society of crafting a document that stands to their benefit and not that of taxpayers.

“If I were drafting a document that affected me, I would draft it exactly the way this one is drafted,” Stevens said. “It gives the County Board and the taxpayers of Lancaster County little or no protection.”

Stevens asked to delay the vote a week to allow for more study and discussion of the documents, after seeing only a draft of the agreement.

The final version was e-mailed to commissioners Monday afternoon, said Lauren Wismer, the county’s bond counsel.   Discussion was delayed until the end of the meeting, after copies of the final revisions were given to commissioners.

Among the most significant of the changes in the agreement is a provision that will dictate when a portion of excess revenues from the Event Center’s operations are used to pay down the bond, Wismer said.

Stevens criticized the provision, saying the Ag Society could manipulate its budget so there were no excess revenues.

Wood, the Ag Society attorney, argued there was plenty of oversight, given the County Board’s responsibility for reviewing and approving the Ag Society’s budget. 

Stevens asked why all excess revenues shouldn’t go to repayment of interest and bond debt.

“If the Lancaster Event Center is successful, they should be more than willing to pay back taxpayers for their investment in this facility,” Stevens said.

But Stevens’ fellow commissioners didn’t share his concerns.

“I don’t see this as an expenditure,” Larry Hudkins said. “I see this as an investment.”

The bond issue is now headed to the Joint Public Agency, whose board will vote Thursday.

The bonds will go to market the first week of October, Wood said. Bond settlement is anticipated around the middle of October with construction beginning soon after.

The project will cover an outdoor arena, add parking, horse stalls, concessions and restrooms among other improvements.

Reach Jean Ortiz at 473-7107 or jortiz@journalstar.com

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