Press-Republican

December 5, 2012

Bed-tax law ready

DENISE A. RAYMO
Press-Republican

MALONE — A draft law to collect a 5 percent bed tax on overnight stays will be presented Thursday to Franklin County legislators.

If the draft is OK’d and the State Legislature approves the change, lodging sites subject to the new fee would include hotels, motels, vacation-rental properties, bed-and-breakfast establishments, cottages and condominiums.

The proposed local law will be presented by the Occupancy-Tax Committee to the Economic Development and Planning Committee at 10 a.m. Thursday, which is the next meeting day for the full County Legislature.

Also included is a recommendation for the county to immediately create a seven-member Tourism Advisory Committee, which would advise legislators on how the collected bed-tax money should be spent.

Much of Tuesday’s two-hour meeting of the Occupancy-Tax Committee involved final review and tweaking of the proposal after recommendations and clarifications were made by County Treasurer Bryon Varin and County Attorney Jonathan Miller.

Varin could not be present, but Miller spoke on his behalf, saying the Treasurer’s Office would create a handbook for lodging owners to explain the law and their responsibilities, right down to what forms they would fill out to report their bed-tax activity.

The law also details the legal actions and powers that the treasurer would have to ensure adherence.

To make it easier for owners to comply, reporting schedules would be similar to those for sales-tax collection and follow the Internal Revenue Service reporting cycle.

SEASONAL RENTALS

Before a final decision was made to include vacation rentals and other properties, the early part of the meeting was a back-and-forth about whether to include them in the law now or add that section later, assuming the state grants permission. 

Legislator Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay), chairman of the Economic Development and Planning Committee, said Franklin County could do as other counties do with their bed tax: include those properties in the law but not enforce it for them.

Seasonal-rental owners would have the option to charge the fee, however.

“I think we should keep it simple,” he said.

Occupancy-Tax Committee member and Lake Clear lodging owner Ernest Holmeyer favored educating property owners about the overall benefits of participating instead of leaving them with the impression that it’s just another tax they are forced to pass on to customers.

He said bed the tax can be viewed as an investment in the county’s overall tourism-marketing effort, and that, in turn, can bring more customers to businesses. And for those properties that may have ineffective or little marketing, participating could broaden their reach to potential new customers. 

ENFORCEMENT

Franklin County Department of Social Services Commissioner Lesley Lyon of Lake Clear, who owns a bed and breakfast, wondered if the added 5 percent might make some potential visitors think twice about choosing a rental property, since they are already paying between $1,000 and $3,000 a week to stay.

“With the 5 percent tax, you have to tell them ‘instead of $2,000, it’s $2,100.’ But I don’t know if $100 is going to make a difference,” she said.

Lyon also questioned the issue of fairness, saying if there are 100 rental properties and only 10 owners are paying it, “wouldn’t there be hard feelings if others don’t pay it?”

Chris LaBarge of the Holiday Inn Express in Malone said there would be “a mechanism to send a request for payment” within the law and that some of the money taken in under the local law “may be used to enforce it.”

Email Denise A. Raymo: draymo@pressrepublican.com