WILMINGTON — The judiciary committee of Wilmington council continued its debate Wednesday as to whether to change the allotment of hotel lodging taxes.
Currently, the Clinton County Convention and Visitors Bureau receives 90 percent of the city’s lodging taxes while the city keeps 10 percent, more than $13,000, as an administrative fee. Last year, council considered, but did not vote on, legislation that would shift 15 percent of the tax from the CVB to city parks.
No action has occurred since then and no action was taken Wednesday. Council member Randi Milburn was absent.
Wednesday, the CVB suggested an alternative – give the CVB 80 percent of the tax and use the other 20 percent, about $27,000, for the parks to improve fields and market tournaments.
“The visitors’ bureau generally has been opposed to what has been proposed,” said Doug DeVilbiss, president of the CVB board. “We as a board are not opposed to the park. We see the park as an asset to the community. We see the park as an asset to the community and part of the mission of what we do and provide.”
DeVilbiss also asked that the funding shift occur later this year so CVB can adjust its budget, and said that the CVB, while opposed to losing funds, also saw an opportunity to further its mission while compromising.
“We would like to see those funds … go to the park to be used to help upgrade the facility that’s there, the fields and also help promote the availability of those fields for tournaments,” DeVilbiss said. “We feel if additional funds are going to be withheld, they should be used in the same vein of what our mission is and that’s to help promote the assets that we have in this community.”
DeVilbiss told committee member Matt Purkey that he didn’t know what would be cut if the CVB’s budget were changed.
Purkey said citizens have reached out to him with concerns about the CVB’s spending.
“One was, ‘I got a really nice card at Christmas time. It was nice, but did it need to go out? At what cost?’” Purkey said. “That’s the first thing I think can get cut.”
He also suggested the CVB look for a smaller place that might cost less to use.
“I still think there’s ways to lower spending,” Purkey said. “I really do.”
Committee member Kelsey Swindler said she shared Purkey’s concerns and added the proposal “to me indicates that you will find those areas that are the most appropriate” to cut.
Wilmington Treasurer Paul Fear suggested the finance committee, rather than judiciary, should determine who gets how much of what tax and said the CVB should submit a budget at the same time as every other budget item.
Marian Miller, Wilmington Mayor John Stanforth’s executive assistant, said the finance committee couldn’t change the disbursements until the standing ordinance, which provides the CVB its portion, was amended.
Later in the meeting, Purkey and Stanforth disagreed with Stamper’s claim that the hotel tax isn’t public money.
“It isn’t public tax money as such, it is a tax that’s collected on transient guests that stay at the hotels,” Stamper said. “There’s often a misconception that the people in our local community are paying that tax, and they do not.”
“It’s not a question of who pays it,” Stanforth said. “It’s who the money belongs to when it’s collected. That money belongs to the taxpayer.”
“Our perspective is, what responsibility do we have with the money once it’s collected,” Swindler said.
Stanforth also read an email from Lori Kersey Williams, director of the city’s parks and recreation department.
“The insinuation (by Stamper, who said the parks should prove why they need additional funds) that the ‘Park’ is not accountable is absurd and, frankly, insulting,” the email read. “The annual budget process is scrutinized from every angle.”
“In recent years, general fund support has been used for capital expenses and non-annual maintenance items, including grant matches,” Williams’ email continued. “For the past four years, our focus has included addressing deferred maintenance as well as providing new, relevant park opportunities to promote healthy outdoor activity. We have worked hard to leverage grant and donation opportunities and to make sure that we have something tangible to show for every dollar.”
No action was taken Wednesday.
Purkey said the committee has “dillied enough” and would try to take action soon.
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.