DENISE A. RAYMO
TUPPER LAKE — Lodging owners here say it is ridiculous for Franklin County to force them to collect a bed tax or face jail, yet give them no say in how the money is spent.
Legislators say that if the State Legislature allows the law and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs it, the county would institute a 5 percent bed tax on overnight guests.
The revenue would go strictly toward tourism promotion and could generate $350,000 to $400,000 a year.
If the revenue stream continues at that same level or higher, the plan is to let bed-tax revenue pay for all county-tourism expenses instead of being charged through property taxes.
MAROUN WILL OPPOSE
But hotel and motel owners who turned out for a second series of public hearings in Tupper Lake Wednesday evening say they don’t want the bed tax at all. They fear it would drive away their already shrinking stream of low- to moderate-income customers.
And their elected representative went on record, saying he won’t support a bed tax if it comes up for a vote before the County Legislature.
“I promised them I’d vote against it,” said Legislator Paul Maroun (R-Tupper Lake), who is also the village mayor there.
Lodging owners said that if the bed tax should be forced on them, they either want some of the proceeds turned back to them to spend how they see fit or want a large portion of what’s collected targeted for Tupper Lake tourism promotions and activities.
“You want us 25 people who are owners of businesses to collect all that money to fix your problems in the county?” said Jay Chojnowski, owner of the Red Top Inn.
“You only target a few owners, yet get a half a million dollars. If you want to split it between us, I’d kiss your (butt),” he said, which brought a laugh from the crowd of about 12 people.
Chojnowski has a bait-and-tackle shop and boat rentals at his property, which would not fall under occupancy-tax requirements but could get confusing to report, he said.
“You ask us to provide the paperwork and send it to Malone, but what if (the County Treasurer’s Office) doesn’t like the numbers? I can go to jail for a year if the numbers don’t add up.”
Donna Maliszewski of Sunset Park Motel said Franklin County has fewer motels than the Village of Lake Placid and that Saranac Lake gets the overflow, which means good business for those few hotels and motels there.
“We don’t see that,” she said. “We’re never busy year round, and our summer months are pretty empty. I don’t see how you’re going to make money. We don’t have much to offer, and half of the motels are up for sale, and there are no bites on them.
“This tax you’re trying is ridiculous,” she said. “We barely make ends meet now. I have to lower my prices to keep people.
“When we collect the taxes for the state, we get a percentage back. But we get nothing from you,” she told legislators.
She said Tupper Lake also gets no attention for its existing tourism issues, such as having an available groomer to prepare trails for snowmobilers to use to get to their businesses in winter.
“What you’re offering is nonsense,” Maliszewski said of the bed-tax proposal. “You don’t benefit, and we lose.”
Robin Doolen of Shaheen’s Motel wanted to know how the staggered terms of service would be decided for the nine-member Tourism Advisory Council that would rule how the bed-tax revenue is spent.
She said she was told names of the nominees would be drawn from a hat, with the first three people serving three years, the next three for two years and the final three for one year.
According to the legislature’s draft law, at least one committee member must be from Tupper Lake and one from Saranac Lake.
The nine would include representatives from accommodations (two seats) and one each from an attraction, recreation venue, retail/restaurants, camping and a vacation-rental such as a bed-and-breakfast, cottage, inn, condominium or tourist home, as well as two at-large members possible with experience in marketing and promotion.
Doolen said someone from the camping industry could serve a longer term than an accommodations owner, for example.
Legislators have a final bed-tax public hearing set for 6 p.m. Thursday, April 18, in the fourth-floor Legislative Chambers of the County Courthouse in Malone.
Email Denise A. Raymo:email@example.com