Commentary: Paradee did right thing on DE Turf legislation

Thank you Sen. Paradee for writing an excellent Opinion piece on the issues behind DE Turf and the SB 178 bill you sponsored. (“Paradee pushes back against ‘false narrative’” Nov. 3). I am sure it was a difficult decision to so publicly demand that Levy Court postpone action on the room tax legislation until you have the legislation revised to exclude DE Turf as the exclusive recipient of almost $1 million a year of unregulated revenue dollars.

Readers are reminded that the 3% room tax was passed through six bills that enabled Seaford, Lewes, Rehoboth, Georgetown, Millville, and Kent County. Except for Kent County, all the municipalities have moved to collect the tax and fund various community services and infrastructure.

SB 178 allowed for Kent County to determine the rate, collect the funds, and pass the $1 million a year to ONLY De Turf to use for “…payment of costs, expenses, and associated debt.” The county’s own attorney has stated that, “Kent County does not have the authority to restrict the use of funds collected by the lodging tax. Thus, there would be no pre-approval or oversight by any governmental body as to how DE Turf (a 504.c.3 nonprofit corporation) could use the funds. So, you ask, “what creative uses would be possible with the DE Turf Board approval?”

  1. How about paying the board president a $150,000 a year salary? YES
  2. Send board members to Hawaii in January to see other venues? YES
  3. Lease private cars for staff & board members? YES
  4. Have a New Year’s Eve gala event for sponsors? YES

What is most troubling about this whole effort, as reported by Sen. Paradee, is that Levy Court Commissioners Sweeney, Banta, Pepper, and Buckson all were actively involved in planning the draft legislation so that there would be NO restriction of a million dollar slush fund deposited at DE Turf.

In other words, they were more interested in helping a special interest group circumvent standard rules/regulations than seeing that public revenue benefited the good of all the citizens of Kent County.

I was asked by a commissioner if I “wanted DE Turf to fail”? I responded to Jody “NO”. But it must be able to operate without public bailout. I also asked him why Levy Court commissioners were being enablers for DE Turf to beat the system?

Recently, DE Turf released financial statements for 2017 and 2018 –a copy can be obtained from the Kent County Information Office, and disregard the DE Turf cover letter that states, “Kent County does not have authority to release this information to any outside entity”. So, what does DE Turf want to be kept secret? What is clear is that DE Turf has some major financial issues that need to be publicly aired.

  1. 2017: Revenue: $795,611 Expenses & Interest: $2,795,634

2018: Revenue: $1,536,299 Expenses & Interest: $2,880,275

Now that whatever start-up funds in the system have been expended to cover 2017 and 2018 expenses, how does DE Turf plan to fund current operating expenses? Maybe that’s the reason to sneak through a $1 million dollar slush fund legislation on June 30?

  1. As of October 2019, the annual interest/principal payment on the $19 million of Kent County-issued bond debt raises increases by $250,000 a year. Where in the budget is this covered?
  2. Unlike other tournament fields, DE Turf made the decision to use artificial turf. The CSL Consultants advised that the turf last for about 10 years, and so a $200-250,000 a year replacement fund should be funded. See if you can find this $500,000 reserve somewhere in the budget. By the way, there are consultant reports that say the life of fields used for tournament play have shorter replacement times, and certainly not the 20-40 years referenced in the auditor’s report.

Again, I thank you Sen. Paradee for his courageous stand and for sharing with the public the questionable practices of Levy Court commissioners and DE Turf — something that the public should consider when Commissioners Banta, Sweeney, Buckson, and Pepper are asking for our votes.

Thomas Pledgie is a resident of Dover.

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