January 18, 2013

Bed-tax opinions mixed

Franklin Countyholds last hearingon proposed fee


---- — MALONE — Opinions were strong but mixed as about 20 people turned out Thursday for the third in a series of public hearings on creating a Franklin County bed tax.

Two similar sessions last week in Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake drew fewer residents, but most of those attendees opposed implementation of a fee on overnight guests.

The proposed local law calls for a 5-percent charge at hotels and motels, cottages and bed-and-breakfasts, vacation-rental properties and condominiums.

The money collected by the County Treasurer’s Office would be used to promote tourism and market Franklin County, and a committee would be appointed to develop a marketing strategy for legislators to approve. 

Jacob Kipping, assistant general manager of The Point in Saranac Lake, said adding a 5-percent tax to his guests’ stay would cost his advanced-booked customers an extra $40,000.

“I’d have to call and ask them for additional funds to come and stay,” he said of guests who already intend to pay between $1,500 and $2,990 a night for their all-inclusive package.

He said the resort pays 4 percent sales tax already and adding 5 percent “to increase it to 9 percent. We thought it was high.

“We feel it would be a lot of money we are asking of our guests,” Kipping said. “We are against it. It is detrimental to our business as we recover from the economic downturn of a few years ago.”

But Mary Scharf, a member of the Malone Town Council, said, “we need the funds to advertise our area and build the infrastructure. That’s not going to come from taxpayers. They’re tapped out.”

She is an experienced world traveler who said she’s never been to a country that hasn’t charged a bed tax.

“If you travel, you pay a tax,” she said, adding that she factors that cost in when she plans her excursions.

Dick LaVigne said, “a vast majority of businesses will see a big benefit to this. And there will be an untold amount of sales tax generated as well.

“There is a whole lot to be done, and maybe the county could find a few extras bucks to hire a planner,” he said.

Paul Hogan, a member of the County Industrial Development Agency which shares a Board of Directors with the County Tourism Office, was upset that the county seems to be ignoring a 30-year track record of tourism successes by diverting tourism tax dollars away from its programs.

Hogan said Franklin County recently handed a firm based in Essex County $25,000 in tourism money, “and we will get nothing for it.”

But the IDA set aside $50,000 in its 2013 budget to use for marketing. 

“Leave tourism where it is, and put tourism people on the committee,” Hogan said.

He said that even if the county sent a proposal to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to add a bed tax, the governor won’t approve it because he’s announced he will not sanction any new taxes for the rest of his administration.

Legislature Chairman Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay) said the committee that explored a bed tax and came up with the proposed local law will meet again shortly to revise the proposal using the comments they received from the hearings.

Then a fresh proposed local law will be discussed at another series of meetings throughout the county before a final version is acted upon.

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