By Ron Wilshire
CLARION, Pa. (EYT) – A decision by Jefferson County Commissioners on Tuesday morning could impact the five-member Pennsylvania Great Outdoors (PAGO) Tourism Agency.
Jefferson County’s Board of Commissioners voted on a resolution to decertify Pennsylvania Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau (PAGO) as the county’s Tourism Promotion Agency (TPA) during their monthly commissioner’s meeting on Tuesday morning.
Clarion County Commissioners also met on Tuesday morning, and Commissioner Ted Tharan was asked about the impact on PAGO.
“If Jefferson County pulls out, it will impact the remaining counties,” Tharan said.
“We’ve considered a lot of stuff. We haven’t decided on anything.”
The members of PAGO are Clarion, Jefferson, Forest, Elk, and Cameron Counties.
PAGO’s headquarters are in Brookville in Jefferson County.
PAGO is funded by the hotel room tax collected by the counties. Clarion County submits 50 percent of the collected tax to PAGO, and other counties submit as much as 75 percent of the tax. Clarion County has kept its hotel tax rate at three percent, while the others have raised theirs to five percent.
Each county’s appointed hotel tax committee decides how that money is spent.
The Hotel Room Rental Tax Act, the 2016 Act responsible for creating Pennsylvania’s 50 designated TPAs, states that the resolution must be “concurred in by the governing bodies representing over 65 percent of the county’s total population.”
Clarion County has the largest number of hotels on Interstate 80 and collects an estimated $200,000.00 annually.
Jefferson County’s resolution now goes to the county’s 34 municipalities for ratification.
The road to decertification is not a short one.
“The process is there to decertify a TPA (Tourism Promotion Agency) if the county or the municipalities are not happy with it,” Tharan explained.
“It requires the county’s vote and the majority of the municipalities. Once they (Jefferson County) all vote, they’ll do a public hearing so that we can have a hearing on whether or not it’s a good idea before it’s finally done.”
Like Jefferson County, Clarion County reportedly has a problem with PAGO’s transparency and accountability.
Clarion County has been trying to receive complete PAGO audit information for three years and sent a letter to the DCED (Department of Community and Economic Development). They were withholding payment until it was satisfied with all the materials it had not received and that they were required by law to do.
“We have received some information,” Tharan said. “Whether it’s satisfactory, I don’t know yet.”
At a recent Jefferson County hearing, most people supporting PAGO were from the Cook Forest area.
Tharan said, “That’s probably true because three counties–Jefferson, Forest, and Clarion–have a part of Cook Forest. Clarion has most of Cook Forest, and we have the Welcome Center there.”
Following the Jefferson County Commissioners’ vote, Executive Director of Pennsylvania Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau John Straitiff told exploreJeffersonPA.com, “We are very disappointed in today’s vote. The growth in room tax collections since 2014 in Jefferson County proves that we have done our assigned job well.
“The lodging and tourism-related businesses in Jefferson County have shown us tremendous support during the last several weeks. Unfortunately, they are the ones who truly suffer from this decision. PAGO has always used the hotel tax funds for marketing as directed by Act 18 and has worked to provide the requested information to the commissioners.”
However, the Jefferson County Commissioners explained that it’s not PAGO’s performance but its lack of transparency and accountability that led to Tuesday’s vote.
Gavin Fish contributed to this story.