WILMINGTON — The judiciary committee of Wilmington council met Wednesday evening to discuss, among other topics, possibly re-allocating hotel tax revenues from the Clinton County Convention and Visitors Bureau to the Wilmington Parks and Recreation Department.
Legislation was initially proposed in December 2015 to re-allocate the city’s hotel taxes, but it eventually died, though the discussion on whether to re-allocate those taxes continues.
Currently, the CVB receives 90 percent of the city’s lodging tax while 10 percent goes to the city as an administrative fee. The dead, 2015 legislation would have reduced the CVB’s portion to 75 percent, keep the 10 percent administrative fee and give the remaining 15 percent to the parks.
Wednesday’s committee meeting ended with a fact-gathering mission tentatively ahead of the committee’s May 4 meeting.
“If it was 10 percent that the city took, I want to know what that would do to,” the CVB, said Randi Milburn, chair of the committee.
CVB Executive Director Debbie Stamper said the marketing budget would probably be cut as a result, and she said she could present more information after meeting with her officers.
At the same time, committee members Matt Purkey and Kelsey Swindler will seek more information from Stamper.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Wilmington resident Paul Hunter reiterated his suggestion to divert 10 percent of the taxes, which he estimated to be $13,000, from the CVB to the parks and, at the same time, reduce the city’s administrative fee to 1 percent. The remaining 9 percent, Hunter said, should be given to the city parks.
Hunter said the CVB has enough unencumbered cash to absorb the cuts, a claim CVB officials disputed.
Stamper said state auditors recommend the CVB maintain a three-month reserve of cash in case of tragedy.
“We’re talking about $75,000 that need to be left in there,” Stamper said.
Wilmington Mayor John Stanforth said the CVB budgeted to receive $100,000 from the city. He asked why not take what’s left over, after that $100,000, and give the excess to parks.
“There would never be any growth,” Stamper said. “What would be the reasoning for us to try to grow tourism in the county?”
“You’re assuming they (the hotels) will never raise their price,” Stanforth said.
Bob Hiatt, treasurer of the CVB, said, “That puts a cap on the funds that are going to come in. Are we becoming a victim of our own success here?
“My concern is, when you’re talking about tens of thousands of dollars over the next several years, you will negatively impact what we do,” Hiatt said. “You’re impacting the whole county.”
Hiatt also asked if the CVB “should do a third less or 20 percent less or 15 percent less for the promotion of the city” and if council was dissatisfied with the CVB’s efforts.
Stamper reiterated Hiatt’s point after Stanforth and Hunter spoke in favor of Williams’ accomplishments as parks and recreation director. Stanforth said no one in the city can leverage money like Williams can.
“It sounds like to me though that by being successful, and I work like a dog, that we’re being penalized,” Stamper said.
Committee member Matt Purkey said he believes there is room in the CVB’s budget for cuts.
“Every organization in this county and city right now is tightening its belt to try to make things happen, and this is the one organization that’s growing,” Purkey said. “I’m not saying that your success should fund the ones who aren’t,” but he wants to know if there are more cost-effective ways to accomplish the CVB’s objectives.
“Don’t look at us a cash cow,” Hiatt said. “Everything you take from us diminishes what we can accomplish.”
Council member Joe Spicer said the money is generated by putting heads into beds and said the dead legislation was similar to “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
Spicer, who is not a member of the committee, is council’s representative to the CVB.
Wilmington Treasurer Paul Fear said the city should give its nine percent to the parks but not cut the CVB’s portion.
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.