Tourism issue creeps into Youngsville Boro meeting

The ongoing saga of the duel between the Warren County Visitors’ Bureau and the Warren County Commissioners over bed tax money spilled over into the Youngsville Borough Council meeting Monday evening.

County Commissioners John Bortz and John Eggleston made short presentations to council members about their decision to give the roughly $140,000 a year to the Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry to promote tourism in the county, pending approval by county municipalities. The money has been turned over the WCVB in the past.

“After a period of time of evaluation and consideration it was determined by the Warren County Commissioners that the tax dollars that are raised by the bed tax could be better utilized and more efficiently administrated if we moved them over to the Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry,” Bortz said.

Eggleston said, “I have not had too many more difficult situations over the last ten years than trying to work with the Visitors’ Bureau board of directors. …We’ve made this decision, we didn’t make it lightly. We’ve done our research, we’ve done our homework. I hope you’ll take into account that the ten years we’ve been in office we’ve been efficient, we haven’t been particularly political, we’ve tried to govern Warren County in the best way we can.”

Jim Decker, president and CEO of WCCBI, noted that while tourism was not part of the chamber’s original duties, the organization has changed parts of its mission to include multiple-day events, combining them in one case with a job fair to allow employers to present themselves with visitors to the events.

“We recognize the legal statute of taking those hotel bed tax dollars that come in and applying them strictly to tourism promotion activities. These dollars will be properly segregated… with separate accounts,” he added.

Decker also noted that the accounts and activities will be audited annually insuring the money is properly utilized.

John O’Connor and Karrie Cristea represented the WCVB at the borough council meeting. O’Connor described some of the activities of the WCVB to encourage tourism, including guides, maps, itinerary planning, brochures, event planning and more. He noted that the WCVB was involved with the Our Town Warren production and sponsors local charity events.

“Our goal is to bring visitors in from outside of the area, for more than one day,” so they would stay in a local hotel, he said.

O’Connor added he wouldn’t endorse an additional three percent bed tax without knowing what the additional money would be used for.

Visitors Bureau spokesmen last week said the commissioners had approached their board seeking support for an additional three percent bed tax, effectively doubling the tax for overnight says at local hostelries. They said their board declined to provide the support since the commissioners declined to explain exactly what the additional money would be used for.

Cristea, who is also employed at the Warren Holiday Inn, said the Visitors’ Bureau works with local golf courses and hotels on golf packages, and that over 900 golfers stayed at the Holiday Inn this year.

Youngsville Council member Pam Olewine asked if the memorandum of understanding between the commisioners and WCCBI differed from the state mandate, and Decker said that it was basically a “cut and paste” and usage of the bed tax funds was “word for word, verbatim.”

Council member Rob Olson asked the commissioners, “What’s going to become of that building and the property? Is that something that you guys are going to use? Where are people going to go if they want information?”

He noted the Visitors’ Bureau had a booth at the Warren County Fair last summer with “tons of stuff” and quite a few people picking up materials.

Decker noted the WCVB owns the building, but the WCCBI would be willing to accept both the assets and liabilities, but if the building is not eventually transferred, then the WCCBI could use its building on Market Street in Warren for the same purpose.

Olewine said the current location is ideal for people travelling, and if she were driving a motor home she would not go into Warren for information.

Eggleston said the commissioners would like to see the use of the building as visitor center continue, but unfortunately the WCVB still owes $50,000 on it. “We can’t continue to allow that to go on,” he said. “It’s a mismanagement of tax dollars.”

In other business, Borough Manager Lisa Hagberg reported a balance of over $956,000 in the general fund and over $75,000 in the Streetscape fund. Council approved a motion to pay September’s bills.

Borough Mayor Jim Farr told council members that the new fire truck being purchased by the Youngsville Volunteer Fire Department is “heavy duty everything; it’s an awesome truck.”

Doug Peterson noted that training on the vehicle hasn’t begun yet, and the company that built it still owns it. He explained that once the department finishes raising the funds to pay for it, the title will show the borough as the owner. Peterson asked for, and received, a motion for an approval to sell the old truck once the new one is commissioned to recoup some of the costs. He added, “It’s something we do every time we get a new truck. They don’t take them on a trade-in.”

He said the truck can function both as a fire attack truck and a 2,500-gallon tanker. It has a pump capable of delivering 3,000 gallons per minute, and Peterson added that during a recent demonstration, all 2,500 gallons of water was dumped from the truck in less than one minute.

Hagberg said that the Streetscape project is about 50 percent complete, but the light poles won’t be here “until maybe December.”

She reported that leaf pick-up in the borough began on Monday and that Halloween hours will be from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 31.

The Williams property, formerly the old furniture factory, will be on the Nov. 1 repository sale with a minimum bid of $250. If no offers are received, the property will go to the county.

A tree will be donated to the borough by Agway, in memory of Helga Laibacher. The planting site will be decided at a future date.

Farr announced that Troy Clawson has been appointed to council to replace former member John Barhydt.