Kent County Shelves Lodging Tax Benefiting DE Turf - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Kent County Shelves Lodging Tax Benefiting DE Turf

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DOVER, Del.- Kent County is not moving forward on plans to implement a controversial lodging tax that would have directed revenue collected on hotel stays to the nonprofit that owns a sports complex near Frederica.

The decision announced Thursday afternoon follows a request by State Sen. Trey Paradee (D-Dover) for county commissioners to hold off on implementing a lodging tax of up to 3 percent to fund DE Turf. The senator was a chief sponsor on the legislation authorizing the county to impose the hotel tax. 

Per the enabling legislation passed in June, revenue from the tax would have gone directly to the Kent County Regional Sports Complex, which owns and operates the DE Turf sports facility near Frederica.

The county has not yet approved the tax in its own code and was set to discuss the plan on Tuesday during a meeting that has since been canceled.

"In accordance with Senator Paradee’s request, Levy Court Leadership has postponed consideration of the matter of a County lodging tax until after the General Assembly has had time to consider contemplated revisions to the state law," said county spokeswoman Kelly Pitts.

In a statement issued Thursday, Paradee said he planned to file legislation allowing the county to collect a lodging tax of up to 3 percent. The revenue under the revised hotel tax would go to the county government, rather than the nonprofit that runs the sports complex.

Under the new lodging tax plan, Paradee said county commissioners would still have the ability to decide whether revenue should go toward DE Turf but would make that decision themselves, rather than be forced by law to give that money to the sports complex.

"Clearly the public has spoken and I think it's time to put on the brakes and re-assess this and that's why we're going to be doing some different legislation," he said in an interview.

Paradee's statement said he made the request in part because of increased scrutiny over his brother's ownership interest in land near DE Turf and position on the Kent County Regional Sports Complex's board of directors.

"I categorically reject the false narrative that my family plotted to pass this bill. The truth is it was proposed by board members of the DE Turf and backed by members of Levy Court," he said.

Paradee said he was approached by DE Turf officials about sponsoring the enabling legislation for the lodging tax near the end of the legislative session after a failed attempt by Sen. Colin Bonini to include the plan as part of legislation that funds Delaware's capital investments.

Bonini did not respond to a call seeking comment for this story.

Levy Court President Brooks Banta, whom Paradee said was involved in discussions about a lodging tax with DE Turf officials earlier this year, declined comment Thursday afternoon about plans to change the recipient of the lodging tax.

"At this point, I don't have an opinion," he said.

DE Turf officials estimated a 3-percent tax could have brought in roughly $1 million, though that estimate differs from projections for a similar tax on hotels located in the county seat. Officials with the City of Dover estimated a 3 percent lodging tax would bring in $1.6 million to fund its government operations.

Dover ended up passing its own lodging tax this year, though it will gradually rise to only 1.5 percent after going into effect next year.

The enabling legislation for the county lodging tax said the revenue could be used to fund things like marketing efforts for DE Turf, infrastructure improvements at the facility, and paying off debt.

Bill Strickland, the board chairman for the Kent County Regional Sports Complex, has said the money would be used to fund bids to host national tournaments and bring in larger crowds to DE Turf.

Strickland on Thursday said he still believes that a lodging tax is a good idea, calling it "an effective and very common practice to support economic development projects and tourism initiatives without using taxpayer money."

"We'll look forward to working with Levy Court as we have done in the past," he said.

County Commissioner Jody Sweeney (D-Camden-Wyoming), who has acknowledged being involved in at least one discussion prior to June about the lodging tax, said holding off on the proposal is a good idea.

"This decision seems to be a better one. It gives us better control over it," he said.

But some opponents of the lodging tax already authorized by the General Assembly remain worried about county commissioners being able to direct lodging tax revenue to DE Turf.

Thomas Pledgie, of Kent County, said he questions DE Turf's financial health and believes the county should use a lodging tax to fund government operations or other worthwhile causes.

"Five other municipalities found worthwhile things to do with it other than dump it into a hole in the ground for affluent kids to come to Delaware to play yuppie sports," he said.

County Commissioner Eric Buckson said he didn't mind the delay in implementing a lodging tax until next year.

"It's our job to manage it," he said. "If they want to make some changes before we go ahead and make those changes then they can go ahead and I'm fine with that."



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