Press-Republican

November 30, 2012

Essex County bed-tax hike advances

LOHR McKINSTRY
Press-Republican

ELIZABETHTOWN — Essex County lawmakers now want to double the proposed increase in the county’s occupancy tax.

What started last week as a preliminary request to the State Legislature for a 1 percent hike in the county’s present 3 percent bed tax is now up to 2 percent.

That would make the Essex County lodging tax 5 percent, the same amount Franklin County is trying to set to establish a bed tax.

Clinton County already has a 3 percent occupancy tax.

DEDICATED FUND

The County Board of Supervisors Ways and Means Committee passed the 2 percent increase request this week, 15-2, with Supervisors Roby Politi (R-North Elba) and Edward Hatch (D-Willsboro) opposed. Supervisor Joyce Morency (R-St. Armand) was absent.

Supervisor Randy Preston (I-Wilmington) said he wanted to amend the resolution asking for an increase to double the request.

“That would give us a total of 5 percent for an occupancy tax. Some businesses may not think it’s a good idea. I’d like to see this go into a dedicated fund (for tourism).”

Essex County’s 3 percent bed tax makes about $1.5 million a year, but 95 percent of that is encumbered to the Lake Placid-Essex County Visitors Bureau, now called Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism. The county gets the other 5 percent for administration.

All of the increase, expected to generate $1 million to $1.2 million annually, would go into county coffers for distribution to tourism-related enterprises, Preston said.

“It (the new tax money) would specifically be dedicated to tourism,” he said. “It would not go into the general fund.”

FISH HATCHERY

The additional bed-tax funds would be used in four ways, Preston said.

“Twenty-five percent is for the (County) Fish Hatchery. It generates tourism. This would pay for it.”

The fish stocked by the Crown Point-based hatchery bring thousands of anglers to the county every year for sport tourism, according to a study.

DEVELOPMENT FUND

Another 25 percent of the new tax would be used to start a tourism product-development fund, Preston said, to “provide private investment with some help accomplishing some tourism-related projects in towns.”

WINTER SEASON

The bulk of the funds, 46 percent, would be used for marketing the winter shoulder season, principally in the Lake Placid area.

“That should promote this county and, in theory, generate more sales tax,” Preston advised.

BUS SERVICE

Finally, the remaining 4 percent would go to maintain some of the county’s CHAMP Public Transportation System, which operates daily bus service throughout the county.

“It is to go toward tourism-related transportation,” Preston said. “I don’t want that to be misinterpreted as us taking over the entire county bus system (with the bed tax).”

SPREADING FUNDING

The extra tax revenue would be spent more on the county as a whole, he said.

“I know Lake Placid brings in a lot of money, but this is a bootstrap grassroots effort for tourism, not just for Lake Placid but out to Newcomb for their snowmobile trails and to Ticonderoga and these other places that ring Lake Placid.”

Most of the ROOST marketing efforts are concentrated on the Lake Placid area, with smaller amounts spent on Lake Champlain towns and other areas of the county.

GENERAL FUND

Supervisor Edward Hatch (D-Willsboro) said he would want any additional occupancy-tax money to go into the general fund, though.

“You’re taking control away from your board,” Hatch said.

Supervisor Roby Politi (R-North Elba) said Lake Placid generates 85 percent of the bed tax collected in Essex County, and he wouldn’t support giving the extra money to the general fund.

“We’re not taking anything away from the tourists; we’re doing some additional things,” Supervisor Daniel Connell (D-Westport) said of the request.

County Manager Daniel Palmer said tourists also need county services that have to be paid for from the general fund.

“If you do it and it generates tourist money and that generates additional sales tax, that is good, but you have to understand that tourism also generates general-fund costs. We have to have roads. We have to have bridges. We have to have 9-1-1 service.

“People that come into this area expect those things when they visit, so it is a general-fund cost involved in all that, as well.”

County Attorney Daniel Manning III said the increase would be a Home Rule Act request to the State Legislature, which he’ll prepare if it passes a final vote at Tuesday’s regular Board of Supervisors session.

E-mail Lohr McKinstry: lmckinstry@pressrepublican.com