DENISE A. RAYMO
MALONE — The State Assembly passed the Franklin County occupancy tax as the session was winding down Thursday.
That came as great news to County Legislature Chairman Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay), who earlier in the day had expressed frustration that no action had been taken.
“We’ve been working at this for three, 3½ years now,” he said.
The legislation that would allow the county to tack on an extra 5 percent surcharge on overnight guests still needs Senate OK, which Jones did not believe would happen this session.
And it would have to be signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“I’m very grateful that it did pass in the Assembly,” Jones said on Thursday evening. “I want to thank Assemblywoman (Janet) Duprey for her leadership in getting this done.
“It’s a very encouraging sign ..., and we remain encouraged that the Senate will act on it sometime in the future, hopefully later this year.”
North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas called the Assembly passage of the bill “a major step.
“Hopefully now there will be an opportunity to obtain required Senate passage before the end of the year,” he said in a press release.
LODGING BUSINESS GROWING
The county spent considerable time last year appointing a committee to create an occupancy-tax law then adopting that law and forming a Tourism Advisory Committee that would determine how the money collected from lodging owners would be spent.
Legislators vowed the bed-tax money would stay in a separate account dedicated to tourism efforts and not be placed in the general fund.
Initial calculations made a few years ago estimated the county could take in $300,000 to $400,000 a year from an occupancy tax, but several hotel projects and improvements are taking place in Malone and Saranac Lake that could make that number grow.
The added fee would be charged on overnight stays at vacation-rental properties, bed-and-breakfasts, cottages, condominiums, hotels and motels.
The Tourism Committee members include an owner each of a tourist home, inn, cottage, condominium and vacation-rental property; the Wild Center in Tupper Lake; retail/restaurant owners; accommodation owners; recreational-business owners; camping businesses; the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort; and Saranac Lake Chamber of Commerce.
The North Country Chamber has been working with Jones, the county’s Tourism Committee and its partner chambers in Malone, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake to help draft the legislation and promote its passage.
Earlier this year, the North Country Regional Economic Development Council gave official support, identifying the bill as a priority means for implementing tourism development strategies.
The occupancy tax, Douglas said in the release, “can be a powerful tool in Franklin County for growing tourism and the economy and also growing county sales tax receipts.”
— News Editor Suzanne Moore contributed to this report.