WILMINGTON — Five of six present council members voted to table a resolution that would have shifted some of the city’s hotel lodging tax from the Clinton County Convention and Visitors Bureau to Wilmington Parks and Recreation.
Council members Marian Miller, Joe Spicer, Mark McKay, Jonathan McKay and Loren Stuckert voted to table the legislation. Council member Randi Milburn was absent, and council member Rob Jaehnig abstained from the vote and the discussion, citing a conflict of interest because his wife works for the CVB.
In tabling the vote to the next regular board meeting in January, Wilmington Mayor Randy Riley suggested that council see if CVB staff and board members can be invited to a finance committee meeting in January to further discuss the item.
Currently, 90 percent of the city’s lodging tax goes to the CVB and 10 percent is collected as an administrative fee. The amendment would reduce the CVB portion to 75 percent, keep the 10 percent administrative fee and give the remaining 15 percent to city parks.
Miller said the bed tax has consistently increased, and Wilmington resident Paul Hunter, quoting budgetary documents, said the city raised $102,000 last year. That means a little more than $15,000 would be shifted.
The ordinance also says the CVB and the parks district will present quarterly financial and performance reports and annual operations reports showing the use of those funds.
“This isn’t to discredit the value and work of the Visitors Bureau,” said Miller, who presented the legislation. “This is only to give credit to the Wilmington parks system. Denying them credit that they don’t bring visitors to the local community is inaccurate.”
Spicer said he was a “150 percent supporter of the parks” but he is concerned that reducing CVB’s portion would impact their budget.
“They’re going to have to cut something in their budget (if the legislation passes),” Spicer said. “And my only concern is, do we have any hard numbers on what kind of impact the visitors to the park bring to the community than the convention bureau?”
Spicer said the CVB keeps statistics of how visitors it brings in affect the community, but Miller disputed that, saying it’s only an average of how other communities’ CVBs perform and isn’t specific to Wilmington.
“The convention center’s doing a great job; the parks are doing a great job. But to rob one entity, one agency, so they can do less of a great job just to make another agency do a great job, it’s just wrong in so many ways,” Spicer said, adding that the hotel tax was established to support the CVB.
“I’m not (robbing them),” said Miller, who said the tax was created to spur visitation, not just to support the CVB. “They’re obligated 50 percent and they get 90. … We have cut the parks budget since 2008 by $294,000” but not the CVBs.
“We have a handicap-accessible park, and we don’t have handicap-accessible bathrooms,” Miller said.
Spicer, who is the city’s CVB representative, said no one has reached out to the CVB, and Miller said she had emailed CVB Executive Director Debbie Stamper about the matter several times but received no response.
Stuckert said he believed the lodging tax was created to support the CVB, but said the tax should be split and, “in hindsight,” should have been split when it was created.
He added that he has been troubled from time to time that the city passes resolutions to send taxes to the CVB but doesn’t receive reports or budgets from the CVB.
Wilmington residents and local officials in the audience also weighed in.
Hunter, who said he’s been trying to get something like this done for several years, said the tax’s revenue has increased by almost half since 2010 “so they’ve gained enough money to absorb this minor takeout, in my opinion.”
Hunter also questioned the budget’s costs, asking if they couldn’t reduce them.
Stephen Picklesimer, the CVB board vice president and general manager of Hampton Inn and Suites and area manager of Holiday Inn Express, said the CVB brings families to Clinton County and that reducing the budget will reduce visitors and, therefore, local business and sales tax revenues.
By contrast, he said the city parks had one tournament this year and one tournament last year that put “heads in beds.”
Miller responded that the parks don’t have enough money to maintain the fields they have.
Picklesimer said the city has more to lose by reducing the CVB’s budget portion through the loss of marketing than it would gain.
“Promoting tourism is an investment that brings significant returns to Wilmington,” he said.
Picklesimer said the hotels he manages make up 76 percent of the taxes paid to the city, and he claimed the tax was to promote the city and the county and said they shouldn’t be diverted elsewhere.
“This is a tax debt my customers bear,” not residents, businesses or other entities, he said. “It should be kept as its original purpose to promote more (attractions) in the area.”
Picklesimer asked what $15,000 could accomplish for the parks, and Miller said that parks director Lori Kersey Williams could stretch that well using grants.
Wilmington resident Chris Walls also spoke, saying that he takes his kids to other counties so they can enjoy parks there and believes city parks should be supported more because they are getting new features.
Scott Holmer, a Clinton County commissioner candidate and treasurer for the CVB, said there should be more communication between the CVB and city council.
Wilmington City Treasurer Paul Fear said it was important to note that the parks are supported by a property tax levy of 1.25 mills.
• Amended the city’s indigent burial policy in three readings. The amended policy requires those indigent burials, which are paid for by the city at $750, to be buried in Sugar Grove Cemetery, which has recently become city-owned and operated. The city owns 10 lots at the cemetery, upon which it can place 10 cremated remains. Council member Rob Jaehnig said the change can protect taxpayers by ensuring that those who claim indigent burial don’t then pay for a lavish burial while also ensuring that those who are in true need are buried properly.
• Tabled a request to ratify an agreement between the Ohio Attorney General and the Clinton County Municipal Court for debt collection. Wilmington Law Director Brian Shidaker said the AG would collect debts and charge a 10 percent fee but didn’t know how court costs are collected locally. In tabling the matter, council president pro tempore and at-large representative Mark McKay noted that court officials weren’t present at the meeting to answer questions. Current debt collection practices employed by the court include the use of payment plans and a “pay or appear” docket, where those with delinquent costs are brought before the court weekly.
• Received a report from City Auditor David Hollingsworth, who said that as of the end of business on Wednesday, there was $1,589,000 in the general fund after beginning the year with $2,696,000. That would project a deficit this year of $1 million, though some changes, including additional appropriations, were made later that evening to make payroll.
• Transferred money in several funds, many of which were done to make payroll.
• Appropriated $241,000 to various funds, including the city’s general fund. Two of the larger items included a $100,000 and a $50,000 transfer from the general fund to EMS and fire, respectively. Those payments, which were needed to pay employees, concerned council members. Hollingsworth said that about $20,000 of the EMS transfer shouldn’t be needed and would eventually revert to the general fund. Council member Joe Spicer said, “That’s a pretty big shortfall. … We should have known about this weeks ago.”