Two of the three commission- ers in Mahoning County have voted to increase the county’s hotel and motel bed tax by 2 percent, contending that the financial strength of the regional airport is key to the Valley’s economic well-being.
Given the opposition from innkeepers in the county to the tax jumping from 3 percent to 5 percent, the Western Reserve Port Authority, which runs the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, has an obligation to provide a detailed explanation for why the money it receives from Mahoning and Trumbull counties is necessary.
The authority should show how the hundreds of thousands of dollars help the airport meet Federal Aviation Administration standards, satisfy the demands of the Air Force’s Youngstown Air Reserve Station and assist in achieving the economic development goals.
In addition, Congressman Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, and the Western Reserve Building Trades need to reassure the hotel and motel owners that should they lose business as a result of the higher bed tax, they will benefit from the overall economic growth that will come from the activities at the airport.
The 2 percent tax increase approved by commissioners John A. McNally IV and Carol Rimedio-Righetti — Commissioner Anthony Traficanti, who is seeking re-election this year, voted “no” — is expected to generate $500,000. Last year, with the 3 percent bed tax in place, Mahoning County funneled about $500,000 to the port authority. Trumbull County, which had a 5 percent bed tax, allocated $350,000.
In July, the Trumbull commissioners reduced the bed tax from 5 percent to 4 percent after the port authority approved a $7,500 bonus for Dan Dickten, the director of aviation. Dickten declined the bonus, and the commissioners are now expected to reinstate the 1 percent.
The Trumbull County officials also have been waiting for their Mahoning County counterparts to act on the increase.
At a time when local governments are struggling to make ends meet as a result of major cuts in state funding, the commitment by county governments to the regional airport certainly carries political risks.
Port authority members must be aware that there is a sizable segment of the Valley population that does not share the opinion of this newspaper and other leaders in the Valley that a fully operational airport is an essential ingredient in the economic revitalization of the region.
They should also realize that while the bed tax revenue does not come out of the pockets of Valley taxpayers, it is still allocated by the Trumbull and Mahoning county commissioners, which means the standards governing the expenditure of public funds are applicable.
The hotel and motel owners in Mahoning County want voters to decide whether the bed tax should be raised by 2 percent. That’s not going to happen, but their concerns about the loss of business should not be dismissed.
With the 2 percent increase, the total tax charged is now 14.75 percent — 6.75 percent combined state and county sales tax, 5 percent county bed tax, and 3 percent bed taxes in Canfield, Austintown and Boardman.
In voting for the increase, commissioners McNally and Rimedio-Righetti also changed the distribution formula of the county bed tax from two-thirds to the port authority and one-third to the convention and visitors’ bureau to 70 percent to the authority and 30 percent to the bureau.
The port authority will be receiving more than $1 million from Mahoning and Trumbull counties, which means the spotlight of public scrutiny will shine even more brightly on the regional airport.