Proposed YMCA lodging fee plan has worked in other areas

Published 10:08pm Tuesday, October 30, 2012

In 2009, faced with the certain closure of the city’s YMCA, Greenville Mayor Dexter McLendon proposed a funding initiative to his city council that would help pay off the more than $1 million debt owed on the facility while securing future funding to help the Greenville YMCA fulfill its mission in the community.

The funding source was a fee on occupied hotel rooms, which would be collected each month along with other fees and taxes hotel owners paid.

Fast forward three years and the Greenville YMCA facility is debt free, has recently constructed a new outdoor swimming pool and is working on new, state of the art tennis courts they hope will help draw tennis tournaments to the city.

“I don’t think with the economy like it was back then that we would have a Y had we not done this,” McLendon said. “Now we’re building new tennis courts, we have a new pool and we’ve purchased property around the Y to build walking trails and bike trails.”

A similar fee structure was recently proposed to the Selma City Council with the proceeds of the fee being used as a perpetual funding source for the Selma-Dallas County YMCA.

The proposed plan would add a $3 per night, per hotel room fee to the city’s lodging tax with $2 of the fee going to the YMCA and the other $1 being used for general purposes of the city.

Selma YMCA board member Ronnie Leet estimated the additional lodging fee would generate $250,000 for the YMCA and an additional $125,000 for the city per year.

The estimate was based on a hotel occupancy rate of 50 percent.

Leet said the proposed hotel fee does not, however, solve the YMCA’s immediate need to raise $1 million by December 31 to pay off the bulk of the facilities debt.

“At this point, if we are not careful we are going to potentially lose the Y if we can’t sustain the debt that is there,” Selma Mayor George Evans said to the council during the meeting.

Amit Patel, who is a managing partner of several hotels in Greenville, never hesitated when approached by McLendon about the additional hotel room fee.

“It’s something that has become very common. People expect to pay taxes,” Patel said of the fee. “If they’re in the area and it’s across the board with all hotels it’s not going to make them stay 30 to 40 miles away to save that (money).”

Patel was also pleased that part of the fee agreement included free YMCA memberships for his employees, while helping accomplish something important for his community.

“It’s money that’s invested back into the community and with that partnership it allows us to offer our employees some level of membership that they may not be able to afford,” Patel said, adding the accounting part of the additional fee is easy. “Since everything is computerized, at the end of the month we pull a report and it tells us how many rooms have been rented, so it’s very simple.”

McLendon said his reason for endorsing this commitment to the YMCA was not only based on economics, but was a spiritual one, too.

“The YMCA is about quality of life for your future,” McLendon said. “Without this quality of life we couldn’t train our youth to develop in a Christian organization and to mature and be good citizens. I think that’s what we’re all trying to do. And without the YMCA, it would be that much harder to accomplish that mission.”

  • popdukes12

    I am all for the “Y” and helping Bill Porter keep the “Y” open. My concern is targeting tax revenue to a private concern. Tax dollars should be collected and used for the good of ALL of the citizens of Selma. This isn’t the case here. Just because Greenville did something like this doesn’t make it legal. An attorney general’s opinion on this proposal should be obtained first. This would have to be done by some government entity, as a private citizen can’t request one; However, as in the past past, the city council will probably act first and face the lawsuits later, like the hundreds of thousands in lawsuits they are facing for stopping work on the NBF monument. This is (yet again) an example of the government working for a minority section of the city and not for the good of all of Selma’s citizens. pops

    • Dennis Palmer

      Certainly that is a concern, “pops.” I’ve studied the League of Municipalities’ rules on appropriations and a very good case could be made that the funding generated by this fee is for the general health and well being of all in Selma, especially children. From the League’s website, followed by my opinion:
      Courts have created a four-part test for determining if an expenditure serves a public purpose:
      “The Court should first determine the ultimate goal or benefit to the public intended by the project. [DMP] We have clearly defined what it would do to, and for, the community by keeping the YMCA open, serving the spiritual and physical health and well being of those in the community who utilize the current facility, and the Brown Y once sufficient funds from this fee are generated to put it back in operation.
      Second, the Court should analyze whether public or private parties will be the primary beneficiaries. [DMP] Both public and private parties will be served by keeping the YMCA open, and reopening the Brown YMCA. The Brown YMCA has not charged for services rendered in the past, will not do so in the future. The Walker Johnson YMCA has been unable to scholarship children into summer and other programs due to lack of funding. This additional fee will expand outreach programs and generate the funding to make that happen.
      Third, the speculative nature of the project must be considered. [DMP] This is an easy one – the Selma YMCA is the second oldest in the state, has been an integral part of this community for more than two generations. This is not some half-cocked organization asking for funding.
      Fourth, the Court must analyze and balance the probability that the public interest will be ultimately served and to what degree.” [DMP] I believe I’ve addressed appropriately above, but the more important question you have to ask is how will the public interest be served if the facility closes, and as Juanda Maxwell said in a prior story, what would it say about this city if we [those who actually live here] allow it to close because we did not think creatively and give personally to keeping it open, serving both the “public,” and “private” parties who live here?

      I don’t expect you to agree with any of the above, but I hope you will agree on this: If the council cites the above as a reason not to approve this measure, they are saying that any giving by the city to not-for-profit entities is against the law. This includes funds given by current, future and former council people who routinely give public funds to support what they feel are worthy causes, without regard to that entity meeting the four point test above.

      • popdukes12

        I knew there was a set of questions that had been established by previous cases that had come to court. I just hadn’t spent the time to look them up. The phrase ” public or private parties will be the primary beneficiaries” could be called into question, in that this is a “for fee” membership entity. My concern with the council is giving funds to “half-cocked organization” (as you put it) that didn’t have a chance of funding itself from it’s inception. Often, many aren’t registered with the state or federal government and this is NEVER established prior to the granting of funds by the council. I still say there is a code saying that the receiving entity will be one constituted by some governmental entity. I will attempt to locate that code and E-mail it to you. pops

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