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VISITORS BUREAU Citizens asked to call for funding



Published: Fri, April 1, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



A lawsuit filed by the bureau is pending in common pleas court.

By PEGGY SINKOVICH

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

NILES -- Members of the Trumbull County Convention and Visitors Bureau are urging the public to contact the county commissioners and help the bureau stay operating.

The bureau suspended operations Thursday but held a press conference at Alberini's Restaurant to explain why it will continue battling commissioners for money its board believes the bureau is owed.

Paul Petrich, chairman, and Dominic Baragona, a member of the board, said the commissioners refused to give the bureau money from the bed tax so they no longer have money to operate. The board members said the money from the county's 4 percent bed tax is suppose to go to the bureau.

The bureau has filed a lawsuit that is currently pending in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.

Commission's stance

Commissioners refuse to give lodging tax proceeds to the bureau. The commissioners say they view the bureau as a private corporate entity without accountability.

"We have been through state audits and no one has found that we have done anything wrong," Baragona said. "If you, the members of the public are upset, write letters to the editors and call the commissioners."

Board members noted they invited the commissioners to attend but none showed.

"We were told not to go because a lawsuit is pending," Tsagaris said. "If they wanted to meet with us, they could have called me."

About a year and half ago, the commissioners discovered the visitors bureau had accumulated $200,000 in a savings account. Commissioners said the lodging tax proceeds shouldn't be used for investment purposes.

The commissioners have refused to give the bureau $159,000 in tax proceeds and have held back the money since last July.

The commissioners said that before they release the money they want the visitors bureau not to appoint its own members to open-ended terms, return to a seven-member board rather than nine, drop the lawsuit, return to bylaws approved 20 years ago and submit its budget to commissioners for approval.

Bureau achievements

Richard Alberini, a board member, said he believes the bureau's efforts were paying off for the county.

"Our job was to get heads in beds in local hotels, and we were doing that," Alberini said. "We were promoting our golf courses and getting people here."

The members said that the bureau has not received the amount of bed-tax revenues the county has said it has for the past few years. The county stated the bureau had received bed-tax revenues of $428,530 in 2000, $433,000 in 2001, and $414,920 in 2002. But the bureau says it received $346,030 in 2000, $349,000 in 2001, and $292,300 in 2002.

Tsagaris, however, disagreed.

"We gave them all the money and sometimes they got more than they were suppose to get," Tsagaris said.

sinkovich@vindy.com




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