DE Turf forum on Kent County lodging tax spurs lively debate

Kent County Tourism Corp. president Pete Bradley raised concerns about a proposed lodging tax at a forum Thursday night. Delaware State News/Ian Gronau

DOVER — The public forum held Thursday night by the DE Turf sports complex’s management to discuss the proposed Kent County lodging tax drew several dozen attendees to Polytech High School, where more than 20 attendees voiced support and opposition for the plan.

At issue was the recently passed state legislation that allows Kent County to institute an up to 3 percent lodging tax — on top of the state’s existing 8 percent tax — with the revenue collected going to the Kent County Regional Sports Complex Corp., a nonprofit that operates DE Turf. A countywide 3 percent lodging tax would bring in an estimated $950,000 annually, according to DE Turf leadership.

At the beginning of the meeting, which lasted just over two hours, DE Turf officials summarized the proposal, gave an overview of their expenses versus income for their first few years of operation and talked about the need for added revenue to stay competitive in the “travel sports industry.”
Though officials said the sports complex was financially healthy and operating at a profit, they said additional revenue was needed to offer cash incentives to attract larger, national-level tournaments, in turn benefiting local businesses.

DE Turf officials said in January more than 102,000 people visited the facility in 2018, and visitors booked nearly 14,000 hotel or motel rooms last year, creating an economic impact of around $31 million.

Several local restaurant owners, DE Turf coaches, parents of athletes and other business representatives spoke in support of the proposal, saying that the sports complex was a boon to the county’s economy and was a destination worth supporting.

Several residents, hoteliers and tourism advocates also spoke up and expressed reservations.

As he has in the past, Kent County Tourism Corp. president Pete Bradley urged stakeholders to consider a “go-slow approach” to the proposed tax. He told those gathered that it would be prudent to institute the new tax at no more than 1 percent for the next two years so the possible economic impact could be gauged appropriately.

Bill Silva with the Delaware Hotel & Lodging Association called the path the proposal was taking “dangerous.” Mr. Silva expressed concern that a private organization would be the recipient of tax revenue, rather than a governmental jurisdiction and said that increased lodging taxes would choke growth in the county’s hotel sector.

To some extent denying the characterization, turf board chairman Bill Strickland said his “homework” on the proposal had drawn the opposite conclusion.

“I talked to some of the hoteliers, the larger hoteliers, in the Dover and Kent County areas prior to doing anything with this proposed legislation, to a person, they all said they would support this (lodging tax) because they see the direct benefit that correlates back to their business,” he said.

Gov. John Carney signed Senate Bill 178, sponsored by Sen. Trey Paradee, in July allowing Kent County to impose the additional lodging tax. Kent County Levy Court must approve an ordinance to create and collect the tax; a public hearing held by that body would be required as part of that process.

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