The Charles County Board of Commissioners has officially begun its campaign to acquire state funding for a proposed minor league baseball stadium in Hughesville.

The commissioners signed a letter to the state Department of Budget and Management on Tuesday requesting up to $6 million over the next two fiscal years -- one-third of the total estimated cost of the stadium. The county and Maryland Baseball LLC, a private company that owns and operates minor league stadiums, have each committed up to $6 million for the project. The $18 million total price tag was described as a "best guess" while design work on the stadium is occurring, said Gary V. Hodge, a consultant who drafted the letter.

"If we did get a commitment of one-third of the cost of this project from the state during the coming session, we could see minor league baseball played in Charles County as early as the spring of 2006," Hodge said. "Southern Maryland is the only region of Maryland which has not yet received state support for the construction of a professional sports venue."

The proposed 4,500-seat stadium would sit on eight acres on the west side of Route 5, just north of the planned Hughesville Bypass, the $39 million road project that the state committed to funding in February. Construction of the ballpark, which is described as a smaller version of Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, is estimated to take 15 months, ending in October 2006, though games could be played before the construction is finished, Hodge said. No team has been selected yet to play in the stadium.

The commissioners are requesting $3 million from the state for fiscal 2006 and up to $3 million more the next year, depending on the final costs of the project. Commissioners President Murray D. Levy (D-At Large) said the state portion could come directly from property, income and sales taxes.

"The cost of their $6 million bond would be paid for directly. They really have little at risk," he said of the state funding mechanism.

The baseball stadium has become the key portion of an overall revitalization plan for Hughesville, a small community in eastern Charles that had a population of 1,500 people at the last census but is often described as the geographic center of Southern Maryland. A meeting last night was scheduled to discuss the Hughesville Sub-Area Plan, which would establish plans for future development of the community.

"This baseball stadium is a piece of a much bigger puzzle," Levy said. The stadium offers opportunities for "some really sophisticated financing and some very sophisticated economic development, which I think is right on target."

The stadium is projected to be a major boon to the economy of Southern Maryland, employing more than 200 people for either permanent or seasonal work, according to a feasibility study by the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. The study estimates more than $9 million in direct annual economic activity from stadium operation revenue and related tourism. Taxes on employee incomes, retail sales and admissions could generate $277,000 a year locally and $563,000 for the state, the study estimated. The construction phase alone could generate more than $27 million of economic activity including 232 jobs, the study said.

Before a stadium can be built, however, the water and sewer infrastructure in Hughesville has to be improved, and Levy said the county is in the process of determining the costs of a new sewage treatment plant. The plant capacity could be limited by the absence of a nearby body of water for discharge.

"They're going to be limited to certain types of treatment facilities," he said, speculating that those would be "some form of spray irrigation or septic."

Levy said a series of public meetings will give residents opportunities for input as the stadium's planning progresses.