GLENS FALLS — Warren County is preparing to file lawsuits against a number of businesses that have either not been collecting or not turning over to the county an estimated $1.6 million in occupancy tax payments.
Audits of occupancy tax payments by lodging businesses have turned up 15 so far who were found to have not paid the county the 4 percent room tax per night of occupancy as county law requires.
County Treasurer Michael Swan said one business alone is believed to owe about $700,000 in taxes and interest, having not paid occupancy tax over a decade.
Others owe lesser amounts, but in all, 15 businesses have been found to owe money during the audit process so far.
The unpaid taxes were discovered through a new effort by the Treasurer’s Office to enforce the occupancy tax law, after the state Comptroller’s Office concluded during a state audit that more enforcement was needed.
The Treasurer’s Office hired an auditor who has been collecting documents and analyzing tax returns to figure out whether businesses are paying what they should be.
Swan said most of the property owners have been cooperative, and many are working out arrangements to pay what they owe.
But the one that is believed to owe $700,000 has not responded to any of the county’s inquiries or filed any returns with the county, according to the treasurer. So county Attorney Mary Kissane has been given authority to file lawsuits to seek judgments and payment.
The business’ name was not released, as the county bed tax law does not allow county officials to disclose who owes what.
Lawsuits, if filed, are public, however.
County Administrator Ryan Moore said four initial lawsuits have been filed in small claims court, where suits can be filed for up to $5,000, depending on the municipality.
Those businesses were identified as Gagne’s Housekeeping Cottages in Lake George; Huddle Bay Motel & Cottages in Bolton; Lake George Bear’s Den in Lake George; and The New Colonial Court in Bolton Landing.
A man who answered the phone Tuesday at Lake George Bear’s Den said he had no comment, while the phone number to Gagne’s was not in service and messages left at the other businesses were not returned Tuesday.
Lawsuits seeking higher amounts will be filed in state Supreme Court.
Swan said the process will bring in some additional money for the bed tax fund, which is used to promote tourism.
“We will wind up collecting quite a bit of money from delinquent properties,” he said.
There are about 250 hotels, motels, lodges and bed-and-breakfast operations that collect occupancy tax in Warren County.
In Clinton County, there are 25 hotels, motels, lodges and bed-and-breakfasts that collect the 3-percent occupancy tax.
County Treasurer Kimberly Davis said none are delinquent in paying the county.
"We check every quarter and if they haven't paid we contact them," Davis said.
Warren County is working on agreements to have the tax collected on short-term rentals, such as those done through Airbnb, but contract language has stalled the process, to the chagrin of some county leaders.
The Board of Supervisors has passed a county law requiring that the tax be collected, but Swan said his office does not have the resources to enforce it for the 1,800 or so rentals believed to exist in the county.
The best course for the county is to contract with Airbnb, VRBO and other major room renters to have them collect the tax and pass it on to the county, but the contract issues with municipalities around New York has stalled that agreement.