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Letters to the editor

November 07, 2003

CVB board chairman: The system does work


To the editor:

As the chair of the Hagerstown/Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau I would like to respond to the Monday Nov, 3, 2003, editorial "Director's exit must trigger improved scrutiny of CVB."

The support of tourism by The Herald-Mail is greatly appreciated by the staff and board of directors of the CVB. First I would like to expand on some of the recent successes of tourism in Washington County.

In 1998 the lodging tax collected was $449,861. In 2002 Lodging tax collected and distributed to the CVB was $514,141 - an increase of $64,240 or plus 14.3 percent

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This increase occurred in spite of the negative impact of Sept. 11, 2001, on tourism across this great nation of ours. The staff of the CVB took this challenge head on and increased tourism, while many communities continue to suffer the economic impact of that day.

Forty-five percent of the money generated from the lodging tax funds the CVB. The other 55 percent is governed by the Board of County Commissioners.

In 2002 the lodging tax helped fund the Washington County Economic Development Council, supported the 140th Battle of Antietam re-enactment, and funded branch libraries in Boonsboro and Smithsburg. Many more worthy causes benefited because of tourists visiting Washington County.

It is important that I share with the citizens of the county that in 2002, 66 percent of the CVB budget was derived from lodging tax revenues. The balance of the budget came from: Grants, 9 percent; Visitor Guide advertisers, 9 percent; membership fees, 6 percent; sales of gifts from the downtown gift shop, 3 percent and ticket sales and commissions, 4 percent.

Advertising and convention expenditures to promote Washington County were 49.9 percent of that budget. Rent in 2002 was 3.4 percent of the budget which is paid to the City of Hagerstown. Salaries for staff were 29 percent.

The citizens of the county can take pride when a request is made for more information about what to do in our area. The Visitor Guide has grown from only 50,000 published in 1997 to more than 160,000 published in 2003. Our Visitor Guide promotes all of the treasures and diversity that makes us such an outstanding location to visit for a day or a week.

Many requests for information on area attractions can now be answered by our Internet site - www.marylandmemories.org. With more than 71,000 "unique visitors" to the Web site, the CVB has built a world-class information center for Washington County.

I invite all residents of the county to stop in the CVB gift shop located downtown at 6 N. Potomac St. Browse around our store, pick up the Visitor Guide. We are making a great first impression on visitors to our county.

It is important that I clarify for the readers of The Herald-Mail that the bylaws of the CVB require that the Board of County Commissioners and the City of Hagerstown have representation on the Board of Directors for the CVB. I have had the pleasure of working with the same two individuals who have held these required positions since 1997.

Your editorial calls for an audit of the CVB. Every year the CVB is audited by an outside CPA firm. That audit is reviewed by the CVB Board of Directors and a copy mailed to the County Commissioners.

As a 501C-6 corporation, we must comply with strict rules as directed by IRS. The CVB is required by tax law to file a Form 990 each year.

I would like the citizens of Washington County to know that the CVB has control systems in place that discovered the infraction that resulted in the release of our CEO. This information was then given to the proper legal authorities for their review and appropriate actions.

The system works. The dedicated staff of the Hagerstown Washington County Convention & Visitors Bureau and the volunteers who sit on the board of directors are committed to building tourism within the county. That has not changed today, and will not change tomorrow.

Ronald J. Vitkun
Chair
Hagerstown Washington County Convention & Visitors Bureau.




'Patriot' Act erodes freedoms


To the editor:

The last week of October marked the second anniversary of congressional passage of the Patriot Act. Enacted on Oct. 26, 2001, the Patriot Act provided the federal government with expanded powers to fight terrorism. Some of the expanded powers, however, run counter to constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. For example, it includes an overly broad definition of terrorism so that government action could be directed against protesters and organizations that voice disagreement with the policies of the leadership of the United States.

In September of this year, the administration proposed an expansion of the Patriot Act's law enforcement powers. This expansion of power would significantly undermine the fundamental liberties guaranteed to all citizens in the Constitution. We are deeply concerned about the plan, which would allow subpoenas to be issued without obtaining approval from judges or grand juries.

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