Trumbull County commissioners deserve kudos for rescinding 1 percent of the bed tax that goes to the Western Reserve Port Authority. While both sides wrangle over what to do next, they should include Mahoning County commissioners and they should examine more than the airport director's pay.
The Port Authority rewarded Aviation Director Daniel Dickten with a 10 percent bonus, or $7,500. He later told Trumbull County Commissioners he was declining the bonus. Trumbull commissioners said the offer of the bonus sent a bad message to county workers who have accepted pay freezes for years. So they eliminated 1 percent of the bed tax.
Trumbull commissioners also sent a message to their Mahoning counterparts: increase the bed tax there. That's the wrong message.
The Port Authority operates the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport. Both counties fund the airport through a hotel and motel sales tax. In Trumbull, 2 percent goes to the Trumbull County Tourism Board and the rest, 3 percent, or about $350,000 annually, to the Port Authority. At least that was how it worked until last week when Trumbull rescinded 1 percent.
In Mahoning, the tax is 3 percent, or about $1 million split evenly between the Mahoning County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Port. More is collected in Mahoning because its hotels are used more. The Port board of directors wants Mahoning to bump the tax to 5 percent to provide an additional $500,000 to its operation.
The hotel and motel operators oppose the increase because it would raise their tax to 14.5 percent, higher than the national average and one of the highest in Ohio.
We suspect that the Port Authority will rescind Dickten's bonus since it probably can't function without the 1 percent that Trumbull killed, and Dickten is refusing it. The Port Authority and county commissioners should not get off so easily.
The Port Authority owes this community a thorough, public evaluation of what it's doing with the $850,000 it receives annually from the counties. This includes an assessment of Port Authority Executive Director Rose Ann DeLeon, whose salary and benefits top $190,000 annually, and her assistant, Sarah V. Lown, whose salary is $65,000 annually not including benefits.
The two counties should also take this development as an opportunity to evaluate the benefits of merging the Port Authority with the Columbiana County Port Authority and / or the Ashtabula City Port Authority if either is interested. Columbiana offers an Ohio River port and Ashtabula offers a Lake Erie port. Combined with the Mahoning Valley's airport, this could become a powerful economic development machine.
By itself, the Western Reserve Port Authority is failing in terms of providing economic stimulation. That's why Trumbull County commissioners should evaluate more than the airport director's bonus before restoring the 1 percent bed tax cut.