DE Turf to hold forum tonight on Kent’s proposed lodging tax

WOODSIDE — The DE Turf sports complex’s leadership will conduct a public forum tonight to discuss the proposed Kent County lodging tax from which the complex stands to benefit.

The forum will start at 6 p.m. in the Polytech High School Auditorium on 823 Walnut Shade Road in Woodside.

A flier circulated by DE Turf states:
“The DE Turf sports complex welcomes the public to attend an open forum to learn more about the sports complex, the proposed lodging tax in Kent County and to address any questions or concerns.”

The public has been encouraged to attend and comment or ask questions during the forum. The flier notes that “speakers will have 1-2 minutes max.”

A slew of enabling legislation allowing several counties and municipalities to impose their own lodging taxes on hotels and motels passed through the General Assembly late in the legislative session in June.

Georgetown, Seaford, Millville and Rehoboth Beach are among six municipalities granted authority by the General Assembly this year to impose a 3 percent lodging tax hike, in addition to the existing 8 percent state accommodations tax. City of Dover and Delaware City are the other municipalities.

However, the legislation enabling Kent County’s lodging tax is distinct in two ways — if instituted, it will overlap the jurisdictions of towns in the county and the revenue would be directed to the nonprofit corporation DE Turf, rather than to a county or municipality’s general fund.

The governor signed the enabling legislation in July, but Kent County Levy Court will need to approve an ordinance to create the tax, with a public hearing required as part of the process.

While many politicians have been in support of the new lodging taxes, hoteliers expressed surprise when the proposals were first reported. A leader of the Delaware Hotel & Lodging Association initially said its membership regrets that it wasn’t part of the tax-hike discussion and has reservations with the proposal.

The association takes particular exception with DE Turf benefiting from the proposed tax’s revenue. Association treasurer and board member William Sullivan said, “Lodging taxes have always gone to the government. The state’s tax has allocations for the beach fund, but to earmark all this revenue to one non-public entity like this? It’s shocking.”

The enabling legislation states that the sports complex could use the revenue for anything from advertising and marketing to expenses and debt service.

A county-wide 3 percent lodging tax would bring in an estimated $950,000 annually — according to DE Turf leadership.

Many Kent County elected officials and DE Turf leaders have said the new tax would help the sports complex remain competitive in its industry. 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.

Fifth District Kent County Levy Court Commissioner George “Jody” Sweeney said he believes the forum is partly a response to his recommendation to the sports complex to better explain how the DE Turf operates to residents.

“After news of this lodging tax came out, there were a lot of heated discussions about it and a lot of people seemed to be repeating incorrect information, so I got in touch with DE Turf leadership and suggested this,” he said.

“The county is a really big supporter of DE Turf and we think they’re bringing a lot of people in from out-of-state, but what I really want to see is their operating budget,” he said. “I want to understand exactly how they intend to use the new revenue.”

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