City eyes tweaking applications for Hotel Lodging Tax for good of local organizations

By John Hamilton -

WILMINGTON — A change in some form could be coming regarding local organizations applying for the city’s Hotel Lodging Tax funds.

At Thursday’s Wilmington City Council meeting, council held the first reading of an ordinance amending the application for the funds.

Judiciary Committee Chair Matt Purkey told council it would update the application process. Purkey advised that he and Councilmember Michael Snarr discussed the idea of helping disseminate those funds to local nonprofit groups in need of the money due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors.

The Hotel Lodging Tax was established in 1997 and imposes a 3 percent tax on lodging transactions within the city limits. In 2017, council established a new fund to disperse the retained portions of the tax funds, called the Retained Hotel Lodging Tax Fund.

Eligible projects are ones that attempt to bring patronage to Wilmington businesses and to contribute to the quality of life of the city.

“We really tried to make this happen as quickly as possible,” said Purkey. “In a chain of emails, (City Administrator Marian Miller) brought up a very good point … we did not really have the authority to spend this money this way” although they had been operating in good faith, said Purkey.

“I don’t want to slow down this process anymore. (Law Director Brett Rudduck) and I had a very interesting phone call about it where we discussed are there special circumstances due to the coronavirus that would allow these things to happen,” said Purkey.

He is hoping they can find the proper way to distribute the money to those in need. Rudduck told council their opinion was to repeal parts of the request guidelines that would require “certain prerequisites” that would hinder applications.

“We thought let’s go ahead, it’ll give the council broad discretion in allocating these funds. Then once that’s accomplished, we can come back and revisit it and do it the right way,” said Rudduck. “Ultimately, I think we stated that keeping this money is helping nobody.”

Councilmember Kelsey Swindler wanted to make sure that it wouldn’t be council distributing the money; it would be the administration. Purkey told her he would want to send this to the City Revitalization Committee to help create a process that the administration would be comfortable with. He also told her the committee would like to get it done in a timely manner.

Councilmember Nick Eveland expressed he was uncomfortable about “handing over money to any group, no matter how worthy they are, without council’s approval”; he believes council should have a veto right. He clarified that he did not object to the idea of it, but he just had further questions about it.

Purkey said he wanted to gauge council’s thoughts on the idea and he is open to having further discussions in council or at a City Revitalization Committee meeting.

Also during council:

• Members approved Denise Stryker and Marian Miller as the appointees t0 the Clinton Metropolitan Housing Authority.

By John Hamilton

Reach John Hamilton at 937-382-2574

Reach John Hamilton at 937-382-2574