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Hotel management

Ever wonder where a law comes from? Allen County’s proposed ordinance addressing lodging industry standards offers a textbook explanation: Regulation comes from community demand.

County health officials weren’t looking for a reason to crack down on local hotels and motels but have responded to complaints that market forces alone aren’t ensuring overnight visitors will find safe and sanitary conditions. The increasing complaints, involving bedbugs and other pests, structural damage and stained or damaged mattresses, make the proposed ordinance a reasonable response.

The Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health has proposed a scoring and grading system that would include annual inspections and fines for violations.

The county hasn’t rushed into its decision. Department administrator Mindy Waldron said a measure was first considered about five years ago.

“At the time, we did not receive a lot of complaints, but now the complaints are of a substantial nature,” she told The Journal Gazette’s Vivian Sade.

About half of the county’s 60 lodging establishments have been reported, according to Waldron. More than 30 complaints have been received so far this year, following 41 complaints in 2012 and 29 complaints in 2011.

County officials have responded just as they should. Waldron and Dave Fuller of the Allen County Building Department began meeting last year with Dan O’Connell of Visit Fort Wayne and representatives of the lodging industry to discuss the need for regulation.

Waldron noted that many of the city’s hotels and motels have corporate standards they are required to follow that are more stringent than those proposed.

“Those people are very supportive of this proposed ordinance,” she said.

O’Connell, as president and CEO of Visit Fort Wayne, is responsible for bringing more tourism and convention dollars to the community. He approached the Department of Health after finding scathing reviews on some online travel sites.

All of the major sites make it easy for customers to post a review of a hotel. If enough of the reviews suggest that accommodations here are less than clean and attractive, Fort Wayne’s standing as a good place to visit is compromised.

The proposed ordinance meets all of the criteria for a new regulation:

•It is needed, for both the safety and health of visitors and for the economic health of the area’s tourism industry.

•County officials did their homework, meeting with those affected and compiling data to back up the complaints.

•No additional staff is needed for enforcement, but a $150 annual permit charged to lodging establishments will cover costs.

Board members of the health department will consider the ordinance Oct. 15, and it must win final approval from the county commissioners. It would – and should – become effective Jan. 1.