By DENISE A. RAYMO
---- — MALONE — Franklin County legislators will hold a final public hearing on a proposed 5 percent occupancy tax today in the fourth-floor chambers of the County Courthouse.
The Board of Legislature will convene its regular meeting with a work session beginning at 2 p.m., followed at 4 by the call to order.
The public hearing is set for 5:30 p.m., and everyone is invited to attend.
The local law pertains to vacation-rental properties, bed-and-breakfasts, cottages, condominiums, hotels and motels and would be tracked and enforced by the County Treasurer’s Office.
If it is adopted, the funds collected would be dedicated to tourism promotion.
Last week, the seven-member panel hosted consecutive public hearings in Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake to take input and answer questions about the proposed law, which would would add a 5 percent fee on overnight-guest stays.
Hotels and motel owners in Tupper Lake complained that they were not included in any plans to create an occupancy tax and said legislators dropped the idea on them at the public hearing, leaving them unprepared to ask questions or read the text of the law.
They also said the county’s existing tourism efforts do nothing for Tupper Lake specifically, and they were upset that legislators recently approved a $25,000 request from Saranac Lake for tourism-related funds even though that community already receives financial support from Essex County tourism dollars.
Saranac Lake had a much smaller turnout at its bed-tax public hearing last week, with Sewa Arora, owner of the Hotel Saranac, saying adding a 5 percent tax to his rates would drive customers away instead of drawing more to the region.
LOOKED BACK 10 YEARS
Using sales-tax figures going back more than a decade as a base, legislators estimate the county could take in $350,000 to $375,000 in bed tax.
The proposed law states when bed-tax collection reaches a threshold of $350,000 a year, the county’s contribution toward its Tourism Office would taper off dollar-for-dollar until the income reaches $526,000 a year.
After that, taxpayer dollars would no longer be used to fund tourism in the annual Franklin County budget.
How the money is spent would be determined by a Tourism Advisory Committee that would develop a plan and present it to the legislators for approval.
Three members would serve three-year terms, three would serve two years, and one person would be there for one year.
Two members must be from the Saranac Lake-Tupper Lake area, according to the proposed law.
The plans approved by legislators would be carried out by the tourism-promotion agent, who is a non-voting member of the committee.
The county’s part-time tourism person, Fawn Tatro, would be expected to take on the additional tourism-promotion duties on top of her existing responsibilities with the Industrial Development Agency and the District Attorney’s Office.
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