Press-Republican

November 18, 2012

Bed-tax law nearly done

DENISE RAYMO
Press-Republican

MALONE — A final draft of a local law recommending Franklin County seek state permission to create a 5 percent bed tax could be finished within just a few weeks.

That fits in with legislators’ plan to have it ready by the end of 2012 so a request can be made to the State Legislature when it convenes in January.

Essex County and Clinton County each have a 3 percent occupancy tax on overnight visitors.

Franklin, Hamilton and Herkimer are the only counties in New York state that do not have a bed tax.

Representatives from an alliance of chambers of commerce from Malone, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake resurrected the idea about 18 months ago in hopes of convincing the county to give it the cash to carry out events, activities and construction and accommodation improvements to businesses that cater to tourists.

The alliance, using a 3 percent bed-tax figure, estimated potential annual revenue at $300,000 to $400,000.

LOCAL LAW

But instead of giving the power away to other entities, the County Legislature’s Economic Development and Planning Committee — first under Marc “Tim” LaShomb (R-Malone) and now Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay) — ran with the idea and established an Occupancy-Tax Committee to study the feasibility of a local law.

Five lodging owners, a retired tourism expert and a former school administrator were brought together from each end of Franklin County to structure the local law and are expected to meet in the next two weeks to finalize the document.

According to the draft law, its goal is to “enhance the general economy and quality of life in Franklin County through the marketing of tourism and conventions.”

All revenue generated would be held in a separate account by the county treasurer.

The only expenses to be taken out would be 5 percent for administration and any policy-enforcement costs.

ADVISORY COMMITTEE

At first, the county would use its annual Tourism Office budget allocation of about $176,000 as seed money as the bed-tax law is put in place, the law states.

But once the annual bed-tax revenue exceeds $350,000, the county share would gradually be reduced until the tax is able to fund all tourism expenses.

The law recommends creating a seven-member Tourism Advisory Committee to develop a strategic-marketing plan that the County Legislature must approve.

The Treasurer’s Office would then turn over funding for the activities to a designated tourism-promotion agent to carry out the plan.

Committee members would serve staggered terms, with three on for three years, three for two years and one for one year. No one could serve more than six consecutive years.

Each seat would represent different facets of tourism-related business, and two members must be from the Saranac Lake/Tupper Lake region.

The tourism-promotion agent would be a non-voting member of the committee.

The panel would comprise two people from accommodations and one representative each from an attraction, recreation program, retail business, a restaurant and a camping venue.

ENFORCEMENT

Within 30 days of the law going into effect, all lodging operators in the county would have to register with the County Treasurer’s Office to receive authorization to collect the bed tax and must keep occupancy records for at least five years.

Enforcement and penalties for those who don’t comply with the local law are still being discussed, such as the role of the Treasurer’s Office to issue warrants to confiscate business-tax records to determine what is owed and the property can be seized as compensation and sold.

Other issues will also be finalized before a recommendation is made by the committee. 

Email Denise A. Raymo: draymo@pressrepublican.com

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TRACKING TOURISM

This is the second story in a three-part series on Franklin County's efforts to bring in more tourism dollars. In Monday's Press-Republican, read about a request for $25,000 by the Saranac Lake Chamber of Commerce to develop a marketing plan for the village.