Paradee plans to withdraw Kent lodging tax completely

DOVER — The state lawmaker who sponsored a bill that would establish a controversial lodging tax in Kent County has announced he plans to completely undo the measure.

In a letter sent to Levy Court Nov. 8 and obtained by the Delaware State News Friday, Sen. Trey Paradee, D-Dover, stated he intends to “introduce legislation that will strike all provisions of Senate Substitute 2 For Senate Bill 178 from the Delaware Code when the Delaware General Assembly reconvenes in January.”

The measure, passed in June in the final days of the 2019 legislative session, would have given Kent County the authority to impose a lodging tax of up to 3 percent for hotels and motels in Kent County.

That money would be directed to the DE Turf sports complex, which could use the funding “to remain competitive by advertising, promoting, and providing incentives for use of the facility, to establish a program to benefit youth by providing to youth organizations and scholastic institutions the opportunity to use its facility at reduced cost, and to maintain, improve, and support the facility through the payment of costs, expenses, and associated debt,” the bill states.

The proposal has faced opposition since it was approved by the General Assembly for several reasons. Some have objected to sending tax revenue to a non-government entity, while questions have been raised about the impact a higher lodging tax might have on hotel occupancy. Additionally, some Delawareans have noted Sen. Paradee’s brother, John, was on the board of directors for the DE Turf.

Mr. Paradee resigned from the board earlier this month, citing a “patently false and recklessly irresponsible narrative” that painted his brother as working to explicitly benefit the family. Sen. Paradee has maintained he was not aware of his brother’s involvement with the facility, noting he only introduced the legislation after an attempt by Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, to put the lodging tax language in the capital bond bill failed.

Sen. Paradee has said he was approached by DE Turf officials and told they had the support of a majority of Levy Court.

“I think it’s best to just wipe the slate clean and allow Levy Court, if this is something they truly want, then they need to come forward and go through the same type of public process the other two counties have, which is passing a proclamation requesting the General Assembly to pass the enabling legislation,” he said Friday.

In retrospect, the senator said, he should have told DE Turf leaders to wait until January to allow him to do more research and give the public extra time to weigh in. Instead, hoping to help drive economy activity to the county, he said he made a “last-second decision” he now regrets.

In his letter, Sen. Paradee pledged to abstain from sponsoring or voting on any lodging tax bill (other than the one that would retract the first measure).

He announced on Oct. 31 he was asking Levy Court to cancel a planned public hearing on the proposal that would have been held before commissioners took any action. He wrote in a letter to the editor he would be filing a bill when lawmakers return to remove the DE Turf as the recipient of the tax revenue.

He said Friday he has not discussed the most recent letter with any Levy Court commissioners other than in passing.

Sen. Paradee feels he has been left out to dry by some officials, describing himself as hurt they have not come to his defense.

Leaders of the DE Turf have said the tax would bring in around $950,000, which is needed to offer incentives to attract large tournaments to the county. Also known as bid fees, those incentives are common practice in travel sports and can run from $75,000 to $150,000, according to officials with the complex.

Prior attempts to contact DE Turf Executive Director Chris Giacomucci and board Chairman Bill Strickland about the impact the loss of that revenue would have on the complex were unsuccessful.

The result of years of planning, the facility opened in the spring of 2017 to acclaim and high hopes. Backers touted the millions of dollars they said it would generate for Kent County, while youth sports teams looked forward to having a shiny new location for soccer, lacrosse and more.

By most accounts, the complex and its 12 fields have proven to be a boon to the county. DE Turf hosted 20 big events in its first year and continues to be busy: Officials with the facility said in January more than 102,000 people visited the complex in 2018, creating an economic impact of around $31 million.

Per the DE Turf, those visitors booked nearly 14,000 hotel or motel rooms in 2018.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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