While understandable, the opposition of a few lodging owners to Franklin County’s proposed occupancy tax is shortsighted.
The county wants to require lodging owners to charge a 5 percent fee on overnight guests. Clinton and Essex counties are already successfully reaping the benefits of this user tax, and legislators in Franklin County, seeing the money coming in for their neighbors, smartly decided they should look into this new revenue source.
The beauty of a “bed tax,” as it is commonly called, is that it brings in money only from people who are using the service — and it is mainly tourists from out of the area who are paying the tax. So, for minimal local burden, the county would get a burst of income, which it has promised to direct specifically to promoting tourism.
That marketing, in turn, will certainly inspire other people to want to check out the events, amenities and natural beauty of Franklin County communities.
The county expects to take in $350,000 to $375,000 a year in bed tax. In the other counties, bed-tax revenue far exceeded predictions, so those numbers may be conservative. This is too large a sum for any county to pass up.
The legislators went on the road to hold hearings on their proposal, which was conceived by a committee that included lodging owners. Their first stop, Tupper Lake, did not go well. About 15 people — mostly lodging owners — showed up to speak against the tax, expressing fear that it will turn away business and seriously complicate their bookkeeping. They were also concerned about enforcement and about most of the tourism-promotion money being directed to Saranac Lake.
Similar concerns were expressed in Clinton and Essex counties when they were developing a bed tax, and they proved mostly unwarranted.
Take the fear of losing business, for example. If a family is planning to stay overnight in, say, Tupper Lake at a motel that charges $100 a night, do you really think they will cancel their trip when they hear they will have to pay an additional $5 for bed tax? People who stay in motels expect local taxes, especially travelers from urban areas, like Montreal, New York City and Boston, where hotels pile on all kinds of additional fees and taxes.
We do think the County Legislature should do something to prove to lodging owners that the tourism promotion money will be fairly distributed. The best idea would be to promote the county as a whole, not individual towns. That is the approach Gov. Andrew Cuomo suggested in his State of the State address, his point — a valid one — being that it is better to promote the region than to pit one community against another.
We hope the bed tax will be seen more favorably at the next hearing — set for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 17, at the County Courthouse in Malone — because it is too beneficial to all residents and businesses for the county to pass up.