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Officials are still at odds over funding



Published: Sat, January 15, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



A major convention is coming to Mahoning County this summer.

YOUNGSTOWN -- Suzanne Heino, administrator of the Mahoning County Convention & amp; Visitors Bureau, has had an uphill battle since she took over the bureau a little over a year ago.

In 2003, the county commissioners cut off funding for the former Youngstown/Mahoning County CVB, created in 1987. The new bureau began operations funded by 1 percentage point of the 3-percent bed tax on lodging.

But just when things were getting off the ground, in late December the commissioners cut that amount in half, reducing the county funding to a 1/2 percentage point, or about $75,000.

The money was sent to the Western Reserve Port Authority, which oversees operation of Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in Trumbull County.

No input

One bureau member is not at all pleased about the change.

Jeffrey Maurer, a CVB member and also part of the 36-member Mahoning County Lodging Council, said he wasn't pleased with the decision, which was made "without the input from the lodging community.

"I don't want to support an airport that cannot sustain itself," said Maurer, general manager of the Red Roof Inn in Boardman.

That revenue should be used to help the CVB bring more people to the county, he added.

Mahoning County gave the authority $357,000 last year from bed-tax revenue and will dole out about $300,000 this year, said Joseph Caruso, assistant county administrator.

Show of support

Caruso, also a CVB member, said the two counties must continue their major investment in the airport and the nearby Youngstown Air Reserve Station.

The federal government plans to cut the number of air bases, and both counties want to do as much as they can to keep the Vienna facility open. One of the ways to do that, Caruso said, is to show federal authorities the airport has a consistent source of funding.

Without the bed-tax revenue, the county would have to tap into an already sagging general fund to come up with the county's share of financing, and that would mean Mahoning would be hard pressed to meet its obligation.

Mahoning Valley legislators were instrumental in getting state law changed to use the bed-tax money to fund the joint-use airport facility, Caruso said.

Heads in beds

The CVB may not be getting as much money as it wants, but with the funds it does receive -- about $205,000 for this year from the bed tax -- Heino said the bureau's major goal is, to use industry parlance, "put heads in beds."

Heino, the former director of the Ashtabula CVB, moved back to Mahoning County about a little more than a year ago.

She said the bureau members met with county motel and restaurant owners and the lodging council in October to discuss ways to promote the county and spur economic development.

Getting people to stay overnight in county hotels and motels boosts the economy, and that's what the bureau wants to achieve, she added.

One of the big coups for the CVB was getting the Fraternal Order of Police to have its state convention in the county for the first time. It will be in July.

Expanded bureau

Maurer also would like the bureau to expand its membership and get its Web site up and running.

He said the bureau plans to team with the Youngstown Convocation Center to jointly market the 5,500-seat arena.

"I'll also be attending major conferences throughout the year to get our name out there," Maurer added.

Besides Heino, Caruso and Maurer, the commissioners also serve on the bureau.

Heino said the CVB would like to add representatives from the retail and restaurant industries, Youngstown State University, the arts council, and the lodging industry.




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