Fort Lauderdale has been silent so far on the Florida Panthers hockey team's request for about $80 million in hotel bed taxes to help keep the team afloat.
But Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler brought up the Panthers' request at the Feb. 18 conference meeting, saying that he personally isn't in favor of the proposal as it stands, and that he thinks the city should at some point take a formal position.
Cities that have taken formal positions are Hollywood, Plantation, Deerfield Beach, Wilton Manors and the town of Davie, all of them in opposition. Hallandale Beach and Dania Beach are expected to take formal positions soon, likely to oppose.
No city has taken a position in favor - not even Sunrise, home to the BB&T Center where the Panthers play.
Mayor Seiler told his colleagues that he has "spoken to every county commissioner on the issue.''
Seiler said during the city conference meeting that he told county commissioners that "the city of Fort Lauderdale has not taken a position in support of the Panthers request and I don't expect the city to take a position in support of it.''
He said when the city has an idea of the firm proposal, which is being re-negotiated in the coming 90 days, the city should take a formal position.
"I don't believe that the Panthers' current request is appropriate,'' Seiler said. "That's my personal opinion and I'd like to give a formal city position, but this is going to be a many months process.''
City Commissioner Dean Trantalis said now would be a good time to discuss the larger issue - that even though Fort Lauderdale contributes half the tourist tax funds, it has no binding say in how the money is spent. That's done by county commissioners. (And there no longer is a Fort Lauderdale resident on the County Commission, either.)
"Why aren't we participating in the decision making as to how that money's being spent?'' Trantalis asked.
"I can tell you where the money should be spent,'' said Commissioner Bruce Roberts. "Beach renourishment.''
Seiler said it was "interesting'' that "no one's actually formally asked our opinion.''
"Brittany Wallman has,'' corrected Trantalis.
The room erupted in laughter at that point.
"That's not the public,'' said Seiler. "And what I'm saying is, at some point in time the County Commission, the county administration, is going to ask that question, and I think we ought to have a position of the city to take.''
Seiler asked his colleagues to read up on the issue, and asked City Manager Lee Feldman to distribute pertinent information to him and all his colleagues.
Fort Lauderdale is by far the greatest contributor to the hotel tax, being the source of 48.57 percent of the $46.5 million the tax raised in 2012-13, for example.
To give you an idea of the city's place compared to other Broward cities, Fort Lauderdale's hotels and other part-time residences that charge a tourist tax brought in $22.6 million in that year, and the next large contributor was Hollywood, with a third that much: $7.1 million.
Behind that city was Dania Beach, with $3.6 million, and then two cities, Deerfield Beach and Plantation, contributed $2 million-plus. Pompano Beach and Weston brought in $1 million-plus. No one else broke $1 million.
Feldman said the "elephant in the room' is the question about whether the original two-cent hotel bed tax levied in 1996 to help build the arena can be used for things other than a professional sports facility and convention center debt.
The Panthers are arguing, via attorney Mike Moskowitz, that the money can't legally be used for other things, like beach renourishment.
State law allowed Broward County to level the increased bed tax. The wording of the two ordinances - one for each penny tax - doesn't specifically say it can be used for anything other than a sports facility or convention center debt.
Though the county has said it disagrees with this and believes the money can be used for any lawful tourist-tax purpose, city commissioners said they hadn't seen the county's legal argument in writing and only were aware of the county's general disagreement with the Panthers on that critical issue.
I've asked County Attorney Joni Armstrong Coffey and tourism top official Nicki Grossman if they can release anything in writing that clears this up.
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