MAHONING COUNTY Commissioners file lawsuit against bureau

The CVB can keep operating while the lawsuit is pending.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County commissioners have filed a lawsuit to recover money being held by the county's former tourism bureau.
The sides have reached a temporary agreement that will allow the Youngstown/Mahoning County Convention and Visitors Bureau to remain in operation while the suit is pending.
"Both sides have agreed that they have a mutual interest, and that is promoting tourism in Mahoning County," said Atty. David Engler, who represents the CVB.
The dispute is whether the CVB is entitled to keep revenue from a county lodging tax that it received before October 2003.
The bureau was created by commissioners in 1987 to promote travel and tourism in the county. The bureau was designated by commissioners to receive revenue from a 3 percent lodging tax, which is paid by everyone who rents a hotel or motel room in the county.
Funds redirected
Commissioners voted to stop giving bed tax revenue to the CVB on Oct. 9, 2003. Instead, two-thirds of it -- or about $300,000 -- goes toward operation of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in Trumbull County. Trumbull and Mahoning counties share operating costs for the airport.
The other one-third, about $150,000, goes to a new visitors bureau made up of county officials.
The old CVB still has about $400,000 from bed tax money it received before commissioners cut off its funding source. Commissioners have asked that the money be returned, since it's public money but the CVB is no longer considered a public agency.
The CVB has refused to give the money back, saying that it is still using the money to promote tourism.
As part of the lawsuit, filed Wednesday in common pleas court, the county asks that the bureau be ordered to return the money, and that that it be restrained from spending any more money while the case is pending.
"This is breaking new legal ground, but we are going to aggressively pursue it within the confines of the law," said Prosecutor Paul Gains.
After a short hearing before Judge Jack Durkin, the sides reached a tentative agreement that will let the bureau keep operating for now.
Assistant prosecutors Linette Stratford and Sharon Hackett said the county has agreed to let the bureau keep spending bed tax revenue, as long as it's to promote tourism in the county. A permanent injunction hearing is scheduled for March 25, but lawyers for both sides said they hope to reach a settlement before then.
"Neither side has an interest in further litigation," said Engler, a former county commissioner.
The CVB filed a lawsuit against the county in Franklin County last year, challenging the constitutionality of a new law that allowed commissioners to redirect the bed tax revenue. It was filed in Columbus because Gov. Bob Taft also was named as a defendant.
A Franklin County judge dismissed that lawsuit earlier this month, saying the funding issue should be decided in Mahoning County.