Press-Republican

November 1, 2012

Bed-tax proposal being tweaked

By DENISE A. RAYMO
Press-Republican

---- — MALONE — Compliance enforcement, control of the money and which projects get funding are still unknowns as Franklin County continues discussing a possible bed tax.

There is also no agreement on who would oversee the day-to-day operations, what related industries should be represented on a tourism advisory committee or the overall vision of the county’s tourism agenda.

A draft local law seeks State Legislature authorization to charge a 5-percent tax on each overnight-lodging stay, with the money going toward tourism promotion.

The county hopes to makes its formal request in January through Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) and Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (R-Peru).

Franklin and Hamilton counties are the only two in the state with no bed tax at all. Clinton and Essex counties each have a 3-percent occupancy tax.

ENFORCEMENT

Franklin County’s draft law is based on an updated version of the law that Clinton County uses. It needs input from County Treasurer Bryon Varin, County Attorney Jonathan Miller and County Manager Thomas Leitz before the committee tweaks the final language and presents it to the County Legislature.

Leitz told the Occupancy Tax Committee Wednesday that he needed clarification on whether Varin would have the power to issue warrants on lodgers who don’t comply with the law so there is a mechanism in place to get the money.

“It would be the hammer, but that could be decided down the road,” said Legislator Timothy Burpoe (D-Saranac Lake), chairman of the Legislature’s Finance Committee.

Miller said he will research what other counties do in those situations, meet with Varin and provide an opinion at a meeting in November.

VACATION RENTALS

Another factor is whether vacation-rental properties should be subject to a bed tax since they are overnight visits within the county’s boundaries.

Ernest Holmeyer, owner of Mountain Community Vision consulting and Lake Clear Lodge, said Franklin County has the largest segment of high-end vacation rentals in the region and that those sites should be included, even though other counties have a “bungalow tax” but don’t enforce it.

But there were differing ideas on how to identify those temporary-rental places and how to reach those owners and convince them of the benefits of the tourism-marketing initiative.

COMMUNICATION

The committee members discussed formation of the tourism advisory committee appointed by the County Legislature, but they cannot decide if that entity should stand on its own and answer to legislators or be kept under the umbrella of the county’s Industrial Development Agency. That agency also oversees the truncated Tourism Office, which lost half of its funding in the 2012 county budget.

Also discussed was the fact that members of the IDA Board of Directors are also members of the Tourism Board of Directors yet the offices retain separate identities.

Some want to keep bed tax under IDA/Tourism as the pass-through funding agency while others want bed tax as an independent unit from IDA since its mission is supposed to economic development, not promotion and marketing.

There was even the suggestion that the North Country Chamber of Commerce, based in Plattsburgh, be brought in under contract to take over promotion of Franklin County since it has the experience and personnel already in place.

All members admitted they don’t know what promotions or programs are being funded by Franklin County Tourism now or what tourism officials here have planned for 2013.

Holmeyer said tourism is the largest economic-development engine in the county, so there should be direct communication between legislators and those making decisions about tourism, marketing and the bed tax.

MARKETING PLAN

The marketing plan itself would be created by a designated tourism-promotion agent from suggestions filtered though the tourism advisory committee then presented to the County Legislature for final approval before a tourism campaign or event is kicked off.

Some suggested starting tourism from scratch and leaving behind existing programs, but former Tourism Director Neil Seymour said initiatives are planned several months in advance so trying to change them isn’t easy or advisable.

Many of them have developed over the years into the region’s largest tourist draws, such as golfing packages, hiking trails and fishing opportunities.

Burpoe suggested the advisory committee be appointed soon so its members can track the Tourism Office activities for six months to learn what it is working toward for 2014.

That way, if the state approves the county’s bed-tax law, work can begin right away on the county’s tourism goals and marketing needs.

Email Denise A. Raymo: draymo@pressrepublican.com