DENISE A. RAYMO
MALONE — Franklin County adopted a 5 percent occupancy-tax law Thursday and will seek approval from the State Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to implement it.
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Legislator Paul Maroun (R-Tupper Lake) voted against the measure, saying it gives too much policing power to the county treasurer and adds an unfair reporting burden on the small mom-and-pop lodging owners.
In a related issue, during an executive session last week, Franklin County legislators appointed members to a Tourism Advisory Committee, which will recommend how existing tourism funds and future bed-tax money would be spent.
▶ Lesley Lyon, owner of Sunday Pond Bed and Breakfast in Lake Clear and the county’s commissioner of Social Services, representing tourist home, inn, cottage, condominium, vacation-rental owners.
▶ Julian Hutton, manager of The Point in Upper Saranac Lake, representing accommodations.
▶ Derek Sprague of the Malone Golf Club, representing retail/restaurant owners.
▶ Bruce Monette, owner of Titus Mountain Family Ski Center, representing recreation-site owners.
▶ Chris LaBarge, owner of the Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Malone, representing accommodations.
▶ Michelle Clement, events coordinator for Tupper Lake, as an at-large member.
▶ Gil Paddock of Deer River Campsite in Malone, representing camping.
▶ A person to be named later from the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort as an at-large member.
▶ Stephanie Radcliff, of the Wild Center in Tupper Lake, representing attractions.
No decision has yet been made on specific term lengths for each member.
Lyon, Monette and LaBarge served on the seven-member Occupancy Tax Committee that formulated the law, which would charge a 5 percent fee on overnight guests and dedicate the money raised to tourism-related objectives the committee recommends.
But final approval for how the funding would be disbursed would remain with the County Legislature, which vows in the law to dedicate $176,000 in taxpayer dollars every year to tourism until the pool of bed-tax money collected reaches $350,000.
Once that threshold is met, the county’s obligation would decrease dollar for dollar until bed-tax income funds all tourism initiatives.
Maroun said he doubts Cuomo will sign the law, due to past the governor’s comments about allowing no new taxes to be created.
But proponents say that if Cuomo makes bed tax a home-rule issue, local legislators would make the decision, not Albany.
Maroun said the policy gives the treasurer the power to throw those in jail who do not comply, and he questioned enforcement of vacation-property owners because there is no way to tell how often or how long a space is rented.
He said County Treasurer Bryon Varin would likely ask for more staff to implement and track bed tax, which would be an added expense at a time when the county is trying to save money.
‘MORE STAFF NEEDED’
Following the meeting, Varin said, “Paul was right. I will ask for more staff” because of the additional duties required of his office, such as creating a compliance handbook for lodging owners, forms for their use, training sessions, compliance site visits, accountability, traceability, random audits and more.
His office would have to track at least 117 establishments, Varin said, and existing staff is not enough.
Legislator Marc “Tim” Lashomb (R-Malone) said he was undecided on the issue but supports the bed tax now because tourism “is a big driver for sales tax,” which would bring relief to taxpayers since every dollar spent has a much larger return in the community.
In a news release, the Franklin County Chamber Alliance — representing chambers of commerce in Malone, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake who initially pushed legislators to create a bed tax three years ago — said the law, if approved by state lawmakers, “enables this county to leverage significant investment capital overseen by a private-sector board for marketing this region’s greatest asset, tourism.”
Email Denise A. Raymo:firstname.lastname@example.org