SCOPE is as open as it has to be

SCOPE is as open as it has to be

The front page article, “SCOPE’s business is none of your business” on March 4, makes allegations and inferences which must be addressed.

SCOPE, Inc. is operated effectively and is fiscally responsible. We comply with applicable federal, state and local reporting requirements including an annual audit by independent accountants.

The article makes it clear that The Vindicator disagrees with Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio Legislature’s decision to create a nonprofit corporation to take over some functions of the Ohio Department of Development. Try as we might, we are unable to see how this situation has any bearing on SCOPE other than your awkward attempt to entwine then.

Your reporter took the complaints of a small, disgruntled group, and used their gripes and uninformed charges to portray SCOPE as insensitive to taxpayers and fiscal openness. The article quotes the spokesperson for the group as saying, “I don’t know if (executive director Janet Schweitzer) tells the board what is going on. I don’t know if she tells them everything.” This is a ridiculous statement intended to reflect our organization and its management in a negative light.

Our 18-member board meets at least monthly and reviews reports covering operations, finances, policy and other areas within our oversight role. Among our board members are four respected local attorneys, a judge, a mayor, the retired president of a large steel company, and a retired senior bank officer. The board values Janet Schweitzer and her obvious dedication to enriching the lives of Trumbull County seniors.

Your article notes that the group of seniors from the Cortland SCOPE center’s chief complaint that the rented facility’s restroom facilities were inadequate. Mrs. Schweitzer met with the group Jan. 30, listened to their concerns for more than two hours and took action. The restroom facilities were expanded. However, the building’s owner is not willing to invest in bringing the facilities up to the standard demanded by the group. Our board does not feel that it would be responsible to invest about $20,000 into upgrading a building we don’t own.

Your article’s clear bias is reflected in the statement that SCOPE receives funding “all out of public purview, except for the scant nonprofit Form 990s the federal government requires.” No reasonable, knowledgeable person would describe a detailed, 25-page report to the IRS of revenue, expenses, etc. as “scant.”

Rather than address every point of the article, I’ll simply note that your reporter did not bother with a face-to-face meeting with either me or Mrs. Schweitzer. Nor did he attend our 50th anniversary meeting Feb. 24 at the SCOPE center in downtown Warren where he would have received our annual report with financial information from 2011 as well as heard a review of SCOPE’s many accomplishments.

We welcome sincere, constructive input from all of our public.

Genevieve Bauman, Warren

The writer is president of the SCOPE Inc. board of directors.

Bed tax won’t destroy area hotels

At the Feb. 29 meeting of the Mahoning County commissioners, a number of hoteliers and members of the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau objected to a pending vote to raise the county’s bed tax by 2 percent. The commissioners tabled the vote, which would have stabilized funding to the Western Reserve Port Authority.

The authority operates the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, which sustains the Youngstown Air Reserve Station, and provides economic-development services in Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

Many of the public statements made at that meeting were misleading. They said the 2 percent increase would make the local rate the highest in the state and one of the highest in the country. Mahoning County’s rate would be 8 percent (5 percent for Mahoning County and an additional 3 percent in Austintown, Beaver, Boardman, Canfield and Sebring). Columbus’ bed tax is 10 percent; Cleveland’s is 9.5 percent, and Toledo’s, 13 percent.

Industry representatives further claimed that the increase would hurt, possibly destroy, business and thousands of jobs would be lost. Facts do not bear this out. Trumbull County increased the bed tax in 2011, and occupancy rates increased.

Studies, such as one published by Cornell University in 2011, have shown that a bed tax has little or no impact on occupancy rates or tourism. Hoteliers and booking agents report that customers rarely ask about the tax on a room. In Mahoning County, the new tax adds $2 onto a $100 bill. Few rooms in Mahoning County are that pricey. Few rooms in larger cities are that cheap.

In the past, the county general fund has underwritten Mahoning County’s contribution to the port authority in the amount of $100,000 annually. That money comes out of the pockets of Mahoning County residents. Bed taxes are paid by visitors, such as the increasing number of land men coming to our county to speculate on the new Utica shale gas industry.

Why not seek funds to grow the county from visitors instead of off the backs of our residents? That keeps money in the general fund where it can be put toward more critical needs such as law enforcement and safety services.

Do the commissioners want to support the Port Authority so that we can continue to operate the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, sustain the airbase, and expand regional economic development services? If the answer is yes, then they must find a way to fund it.

If we believe that the future of our county will be determined by sound economic-development policy and if we expect the air base to remain at our regional airport, then a funding mechanism must be in place that allows the Western Reserve Port Authority to fully implement its strategies to help ensure that future.

Trumbull County has done its part; it’s time for Mahoning County to do the same.

Scott Lynn, chairman of board of Western Reserve Port Authority

Increase taxes and lose hotel beds

The Ohio Hotel & Lodging As- sociation urges the Mahoning County commissioners not to enact a 2 percent lodging tax increase because it is the wrong decision for Mahoning County. This tax increase will make the total tax at checkout of a hotel in Mahoning County one of the highest in the state at 14.75 percent. This is likely to result in businesses changing to hotels in counties with lower rates, fewer travelers spending the night in your county, and hotel developers avoiding your county.

We believe this tax increase will have the same negative effect on your county that has been suffered by Lucas County (Toledo) since increasing its lodging tax by 2 percentage points in 2007. When Toledo increased its rates many of the businesses in the region simply moved their room blocks a few miles away to hotels in nearby Perrysburg, Wood County, where the lodging tax rates were much lower.

Smith Travel Research numbers show that within three years of Lucas County increasing its lodging tax, 731 hotel rooms closed in Lucas County and 445 new rooms opened in Wood County. Today the Seagate Hotel in downtown Toledo is boarded up and the former Crowne Plaza Downtown Toledo just lost its flag — again.

Many recent studies show that increased lodging taxes result in fewer visitors and less revenue. A study released by the U.S. Travel Association in April 2011 found that 49 percent of travelers now alter plans due to higher travel taxes.

Our association represents over 600 members across the state, including several hotels in Mahoning County, all of which are opposed to this tax increase.

Matthew L. MacLaren, Columbus

The writer is executive director of the Ohio Hotel & Lodging Association.