Press-Republican

December 9, 2012

Bed-tax increase put on hold

LOHR McKINSTRY
Press-Republican

ELIZABETHTOWN — Lobbying by local innkeepers got Essex County’s proposed occupancy-tax increase tabled.

Just before they voted at a recent meeting to put the request on hold, many members of the County Board of Supervisors said they’d received calls and visits from lodging owners in their towns, apparently as part of a coordinated effort to sink the increase.

County lawmakers had planned to ask the State Legislature for a 2 percent hike in the county’s existing 3 percent bed tax. They now say the request will be revised with input from lodging operators and resubmitted to the Board of Supervisors for a vote by early 2013.

The extra money, estimated at $1 million to $1.2 million annually, would have been used for sports tourism, visitor transportation and winter shoulder-season promotion.

CONCERN OVER IMPACT

Fred Balzak, co-owner of the Book & Blanket Bed and Breakfast in Jay, addressed supervisors on behalf of the lodging owners.

“The (original) bed tax was done over the objections of many people in the lodging industry. Ask, is this a good thing for Essex County?”

Balzac said his B&B has just three rooms, charging $75 to $105 a night, and his guests would be impacted by an increase.

“That’s just going to add to the cost for people (tourists) at the lower end. Have you talked to the lodging owners in your towns? Ask what impact this may have on them.”

Balzac wanted the increase request tabled for a month or just placed on $150-plus premium rooms.

DIVISION OF MONEY

The new tax money would be used according to this formula: 25 percent for a tourism-development-product fund, 25 percent for operation of the County Fish Hatchery in Crown Point, 4 percent for visitor transportation and 46 percent for marketing the winter off-season in the county.

“The Fish Hatchery is a good thing,” Balzac said. “(But) I’m not sure if the Fish Hatchery is the best place for it to go. The Lake Placid Visitors Bureau doesn’t really help us in Jay. I’m not sure if the money should go to them.”

Actually, supervisors say the Fish Hatchery would be the best use of the money, since the fish it stocks support sports tourism in the county.

The Lake Placid-Essex County Visitors Bureau, now known as the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, gets 95 percent of the 3 percent tax now collected. The other 5 percent goes to the county for administration.

The 3 percent tax brings in about $1.5 million a year.

COUNTY CONTROL

County Attorney Daniel Manning III said that once the resolution is passed he will create a local law, it will go to the State Legislature, and a public hearing will be held.

The request will be to amend the Home Rule legislation granting the original tax to increase the amount from 3 to 5 percent.

“That’s what we’re asking, to amend it,” Manning said. “This resolution will go down to Albany, and Albany will begin the process of drafting the bill.”

He suggested the remainder of the money, after the Fish Hatchery is funded, simply be placed in a board-controlled tourism fund, instead of specific projects.

ROOST tightly controls its 3 percent, Supervisor Margaret Bartley (D-Elizabethtown) said, so placing any new revenue under county control would be beneficial.

“I have seen the frustration our Chamber of Commerce has had (getting bed-tax money). We have not be able to get $300 out of ROOST to promote Elizabethtown-Lewis. And we have motels paying the tax. We have not been able to get any help.”

She moved to table the resolution so they could refine the usage and satisfy lodging owners’ concerns.

“I also have gotten phone calls (from owners),” Supervisor Gerald Morrow (D-Chesterfield) said. “Those players are in the game and should be part of the planning.”

All supervisors present except Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah) voted to table the resolution. Supervisor Michael Marnell (R-Schroon) was absent, and Joyce Morency (R-St. Armand) died recently.

Most lawmakers spoke in favor of the extra 2 percent and said the resolution would be brought back once details were worked out.

“I think this is creating a tool to do things that we can’t do with our existing tax,” Supervisor Sue Montgomery Corey (D-Minerva) said.

Email Lohr McKinstry: lmckinstry@pressrepublican.com