Press-Republican

June 15, 2014

3 percent bed tax renewed in Essex County

LOHR McKINSTRY
Press-Republican

ELIZABETHTOWN — Essex County lawmakers were recently told more needs to be done to promote tourism outside of the Lake Placid area.

At a public hearing on continuing the county’s 3 percent tax on lodging for another three years, several speakers said their towns could use some of the $2 million a year collected by the tax.

“We are the only group in Moriah that has a budget (for tourism promotion),” Moriah Chamber of Commerce President Timothy Bryant said. “Three to four years ago, we had almost 50 percent vacancy in the immediate (Port Henry village) downtown area.  

“There are no vacancies now. We do a lot. If we had some funding we could do a lot more.”

He said the group has only a $12,000 annual budget, and they’ve asked the Lake Placid-based Essex County Office of Sustainable Tourism (ROOST) for some funding but got none. 

It is ROOST that gets the bed-tax money to spend on marketing Essex County.

Bryant said other entities, among them the Moriah Economic Development Group (EDGE) and the community-beautification group pH7, are promoting the town and village.

“All of us could use a little extra help.”

‘PROMOTE EACH TOWN’

Supervisor William Ferebee (R-Keene) urged Bryant to meet with ROOST President James McKenna to try to work out the issue. 

He said some towns are being promoted in a consolidated group by ROOST.

“They (ROOST) do have a process. They’re not just going to give an organization money.”

Bryant said he was asking for money from the occupancy tax for the Moriah Town Council to distribute to the groups.

“The occupancy tax is for the county to promote the county,” he said. “Each town needs to be promoted. There should be some sort of portion for each town.”

Bryant recommended that lawmakers get more involved in the process.

“This could be an easy straightforward type of thing if the supervisors allocated a certain amount of money from each town. Going through these consolidated funding applications (to ROOST) could be years away.”

‘SPREAD IT AROUND’

Margaret Bartley said they’ve run into the same problem with the Elizabethtown-Lewis Chamber of Commerce.

She said ROOST’s funding application states that whatever use they’re putting the money to must generate more tax revenue.

“One of the questions that always comes up is how do you prove the money you’re spending from the bed tax brings more bed tax?” Bartley said. 

“We have a limited number of beds in Elizabethtown. We have two motels and four B&Bs (bed-and-breakfasts).”

She said they send some people to neighboring communities for lodging.

“Whether they’re in your town or my town, we need actual support for these events that bring people into the county. A little bit spread around is going to help all of us and fertilize the (occupancy) tax.”

MARKETING PLAN

Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Douglas (D-Jay) said it may be that a change in the enabling legislation for the lodging tax is needed.

As it stands now, the state legislation that created the tax allocates 95 percent of the collected money to ROOST.

McKenna told supervisors ROOST develops an annual marketing plan, with input from the County Occupancy Tax Advisory Board.

ROOST OK’d requests for $59,500 outside North Elba/Lake Placid so far this year, he said. 

North Elba/Lake Placid generated about 89 percent of the tax, or $1.6 million last year, and that’s where most of it is spent.

“We want to spread it around,” he said.

McKenna said he and and his staff approve or disapprove the applications for bed-tax funds.

‘A LITTLE SEED MONEY’

The top five towns after North Elba bringing in bed-tax revenue last year were: Ticonderoga, $55,593; Wilmington, $54,755; Keene, $47,612; Schroon, $11,346; and North Hudson, $10,219.

McKenna said ROOST is currently working with 15 of the 18 towns in the county on promotion.

“We are not working directly with Newcomb, North Hudson or Minerva at this point because we are seeing how that five-town Upper Hub region works.”

The Upper Hudson Recreation Hub was created to promote towns that are part of the newly acquired Finch Pruyn state-land purchase of 69,000 acres.

Scozzafava said ROOST does a great job, but it’s not a question of doing a great job or not.

“The job that they do it is an overwhelming job, it really is. 

“What we are asking for is just a little bit of seed money out of that bed tax to promote some of the events that we have that are community-related.”

Following the public hearing, the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to continue the lodging tax.

Email Lohr McKinstry:lmckinstry@pressrepublican.com