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In a 3-1 vote, the commission agreed to a deal that puts Lee County in more than $91 million debt to finance stadium improvements for the Minnesota Twins.

On top of that money, a last minute change gives the Twins another $600,000 in improvements financed by the general fund – primarily property tax dollars – over 30 years.

Another 11th hour change to the contract could let the Twins rename Hammond Stadium and keep the profits with the commission’s future approval. The deal already permits the team to sell off naming rights to the ball field and sports complex.

While commissioners claimed property taxpayers aren’t financing the stadium, more than $5.4 million in costs will be shifted to the general fund – which is mostly supported by property taxes – as part of the deal.

That money includes the pay of three park staffers who work at Hammond Stadium. Currently $140,000 of their salaries is paid with tourist tax dollars, but that money will go back to the general fund as part of the financing.

Additionally, the county will triple the $20,000 a year they pay toward annual improvements for the stadium. The Twins will provide matching funds.

Under the agreement, the county will now pay $60,000 a year from its park’s budget to upgrade the stadium based on input from the Twins.

Commissioner Frank Mann said that the general fund spending is justified because the county uses the stadium when the Twins aren’t in spring training and their minor teams are not playing a game in the summer.

“I just want to be ever so clear on this,” Mann said. “There are some general funds in here, but it’s because we use the facility for a whole host of other activities all year long.”

Last year the county paid $5.4 million from its general fund in operating costs for the three stadiums, Parks and Recreation Director Dave Harner said. That money does not include the capital improvement payments that are also made with general fund money.

Earlier this year, Parks and Recreation staffers proposed closing the county’s parks early as a means to save some money and help close a $30 million annual operating deficit.

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Commissioner Tammy Hall voted against the deal, saying she didn’t agree with a facility that houses baseball players.

The county will pay $7.2 million for player accommodations that are built on county owned land and include a theater, kitchen, dining and laundry room, classrooms and recreational amenities, according to documents.

Currently, the team has to pay to put the low-level minor league players up in hotel rooms.

The deal will extend the Twins’ current lease for 25 years beyond the terms of their current agreement.

It was reached eight years before the expiration of the Twins’ current contract to play at Hammond Stadium.

Under its terms, the county will borrow about $41.9 million and pay an additional $6.5 million to cover costs of more stadium improvements.

Because of the last minute changes, Hall said she had wanted to delay the deal for a week.

But, she didn’t move to delay the vote, because, she said, Commissioner Ray Judah couldn’t attend next week’s meeting.

Judah will lose his seat on Nov. 20.

Commissioner Brian Bigelow was not at the meeting.

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