Both sides in the debate over the proposal to increase Mahoning County’s bed tax by 2 percent offer compelling arguments, but when the commissioners meet to make a decision they should focus on this question: Will the additional tax help or hurt the county’s economy?
Commissioners Anthony Traficanti, John A. McNally IV and Carol Rimedio-Righetti are to host a meeting in the near future with the interested parties, and will have the chance to fully explore the pros and cons of the issue. They have heard from Congressman Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, who strongly supports the tax boost, representatives of the Western Reserve Port Authority, which would receive most of the revenue, and hotel and motel owners, who warn of a decline in business if the tax is increased.
What has not occurred thus far is a meeting of the minds — politicians, business leaders and economic development specialists, among others — to enable the commissioners to objectively evaluate the case put forth by each side.
Ryan and members of the port authority, the governing body of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, say the additional revenue — the 2 percent increase would generate about $500,000, of which 70 percent would go to the authority — is necessary to keep the airport operating at Federal Aviation Administration standards and to meet the demands of the Youngstown Air Reserve Station.
They also say the additional money would enable the port authority to continue its important economic development assignment.
But area hotel and motel owners point out that the overall hotel room tax is now 12.75 percent — 6.75 percent combined state and county sales tax, a 3 percent county bed tax, and 3 percent bed taxes in Canfield, Austintown, Boardman and Beaver townships. Increasing the county rate from 3 percent to 5 percent would bring the total to 14.75 percent.
Two-thirds of the county’s bed-tax revenue now goes to the port authority and one-third to the convention and visitors’ bureau. In 2010, the county’s bed tax generated $744,599.
In Trumbull County, where commissioners last year increased the bed-tax by 1 percent to bring it to 5 percent, $350,877 was funneled to the port authority. In 2010, the figure was $299,947.
In addition to the bed-tax revenue, the two counties have also allocated $100,000 each for the past three years to fund economic development activities by the port authority. Youngstown, Warren, Niles, Howland and the Western Reserve Building Trades Council have provided the rest of the $375,000. Most of the money has been used to pay Rose Ann DeLeon, the economic development specialist, and her assistant, Sarah Lown. The payment has become a point of contention for some of the hotel and motel owners. The expenditure has also prompted Commissioner Traficanti to ask for a detailed accounting.
There should be no hesitation on the part of the Western Reserve Port Authority members and the staff to provide the commissioners with all the information they need to make a learned decision.
By the same token, the hotel and motel owners should show proof that the bed-tax increase will result in the loss of business. Has Trumbull County suffered such a loss with the 1 percent increase that was imposed in March 2011?
The answers should provide Traficanti, McNally and Rimedio-Righetti with the context in which to made a decision.