Proposed YMCA lodging fee plan has worked in other areas

Published 10:08 pm 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.

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“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.”