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Port Authority to get Larger Slice of Bed-tax Pie

WARREN – Trumbull County commissioners on Wednesday amended the allocation of the county’s 5 percent excise lodging tax, with an eye on helping the Western Reserve Port Authority transfer an old air cargo facility into a military readiness center that could help save the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna from the federal budget ax.

The move – as of Sept. 1 – would split the 5 percent bed tax to 3.5 for the Port Authority, an increase of a half percent, and 1.5 for the Tourism Bureau, a loss of a half percent.

Commissioners, who voted unanimously for the change, said a July 7 letter submitted by U.S. Rep. Timothy Ryan, D-Howland, and a presentation made this week by Col. Kevin Riley of the 910th Airlift Wing at the air base supported this re-allocation.

In his letter, Ryan mentioned the move would match the allocation implemented by Mahoning County commissioners.

“This revenue adjustment will go a long way toward (the Port Authority) providing resources it needs to further economic development efforts in the Mahoning Valley, including the vital support of the Youngstown Air Reserve Station (YARS), which has a significant economic impact in our community,” Ryan wrote, also mentioning the recent defense budget cuts, sequestration and Base Realignment and Closure considerations, “the need to support (the air base) is greater than ever.”

Commissioner Frank Fuda said he feels it is important to support the base because it is the county’s third largest employer.

Commissioners noted the Tourism Bureau shouldn’t be hurt financially by the reduction.

“They usually have a $300,000 surplus,” said Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa about the bureau’s yearly carryover.

According to figures from the Auditor’s Office, if the new allocation had been in effect for 2015, the Tourism Bureau would have lost about $80,000 in bed tax revenue. Stephanie Sferra, director of the bureau, did not return a phone call from the Tribune Chronicle.

Meanwhile, the leader of the Port Authority was grateful for Wednesday’s action.

“We appreciate the commissioners’ consideration. These additional dollars will allow us to do a variety of things,” said Port Authority executive director John Moliterno.

Last year, county auditor figures show the Port Authority received $472,481 of Trumbull bed tax money, which comes from overnight stays at county hotel and motel rooms. The proceeds from bed taxes in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, Moliterno said, total about $1.6 million annually and make up about 25 percent of the Port Authority budget.

Moliterno noted the Port Authority, which employs 24 people, plans on partnering with the air base to transfer the board’s former air cargo facility in Vienna into a Regional Joint Readiness Center.

When the Port Authority built the air cargo facility in the late 1990s , Moliterno said, despite some $11 million to $13 million of financing from the federal government, the board had to take out a loan to pay their share. Moliterno said the board still owes $969,000 on the loan.

“Back in the day, air cargo was the thing, and remember DHL had employed thousands in Wilmington,” Moliterno said. “We had that apron built so that we could bring any type of aircraft in. But times have changed and defense is now the big thing. We feel this partnership with the base is needed.”

In his presentation, Col. Riley said the Valley contingent of state legislators are trying to obtain funding for the purchase of the 29.5 acre air cargo property for $1.27 million.

The plans for the readiness center would include use of the former cargo facility, adjacent ramp space and property, including an access road, Col. Riley said.

“The center would provide increased readiness footprint for military-civil authorities during times of disaster or emergency and a potential for future job creation,” Col. Riley said.

The facility could be used, Riley told commissioners at a workshop on Wednesday, as an aerial port for mass cargo preparation including humanitarian relief operations; a multi-agency first responder emergency operations hub; a staging location for materials and supplies; a mass casualty management facility; and a place for training exercises at the local, regional and state level.

(Published August 4, 2016 by Guy Vogrin, Tribune Chronicle)