Washington County leaders hope tourism can boost economy
By Chris Buckley
Published: Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Tourism will hopefully be the “economic development engine for the whole county,” Washington County Commissioner Diana Irey Vaughan said Tuesday.
But Irey Vaughan said blame the courts, not the commissioners, for property tax reassessments coming.
Irey Vaughn made her comments as the Mon Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce hosted the Washington County Commissioners for a roundtable discussion to update economic development efforts in the county. The noon event was held at the Charleroi Elks Club.
Fellow commissioner Larry Maggi said the recent merger of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce and Washington County Tourism gives the new organization the freedom to do what the commissioners envisioned — bring visitors from other areas into the county. Both organizations were duplicating efforts, Maggi said.
Those efforts are funded through $1.2 million in hotel tax revenues, Maggi said.
Charleroi businessman and former councilman Mark Alterici is chairman of the new tourism board.
But Irey Vaughn made it clear that the three commissioners, including Harlan Shober, did not vote for the court-mandated property tax reassessment.
“None of us wanted to see this happen,” Irey Vaughn said.
The county will spend $7.9 million on the reassessment, which will take effect in 2016, she said.
“It's not good,” Maggi said. “There are things that are going to go wrong.
“The people who will get hurt will be here in the Valley — senior citizens who do not have the savvy to fight it.
“I think it's $7 million of wasted money.”
Washington County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jeff Kotula, who served as moderator for the event, said, “Nothing hurts business more than higher taxes. I applaud you three for fighting the good fight.”
On another subject, Shober said the Mon River Industrial Group plans to convert the former Allenport steel plant into a light industrial park could be a boon for the Valley, provided it brings “the right kind of jobs.” Shober said the county has been working with the developers for two years to bring large companies, especially in the Marcellus shale industry.
“If you do not bring in the right businesses, it won't bring the spark we need here in the Valley,” Shober said.
Maggi agreed with Kotula's assessment that Monongahela Valley Hospital and California University of Pennsylvania were “bookends” for the Valley's economy.
“I think a community hospital like Mon Valley Hospital is essential to the area,” Maggi said.
“We realize what Cal U and Mon Valley Hospital bring to the area and we're committed to both.”
Ten projects in the Valley received more than half of the $6.2 million in Local Share Account funds awarded by the commissioners last week.
The Local Share Account Review Committee hears presentations for projects, then makes recommendations to the county commissioners for a portion of the gaming revenue from The Meadows Racetrack & Casino in North Strabane Township.
Irey Vaughan said the Valley was a bigger winner among the LSA awards because the need for infrastructure meets one of the key criteria.
“The Valley is blessed to have people so active who contacted us about what needs they have here,” Irey Vaughan said.
Shober said Marcellus shale is a great economic impact in the county that is slowly making its way to the Valley.
He said environmental concerns are being addressed by the state, referencing tougher regulations under Chapter 78. Irey Vaughan said the county has received $10 million in royalties from Marcellus shale drilling and only faced two issues: a contained spill and the accidental cutting down of some trees.
The commissioners applauded the River Towns Initiative, a multi-community effort to promote the region.
Charleroi Borough Manager Donn Henderson said the three commissioners regularly attend the River Town meetings.
“We need to focus on recreation along the river for economic growth, Irey Vaughan said. “There's so much charm in the Valley. The Valley has so many unique venues.”
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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