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Bed-tax bill goes to state lawmakers again

By: DENISE A. RAYMO

MALONE — Franklin County is again awaiting word on a request to the State Legislature to implement a 5 percent occupancy fee on overnight visitors.

Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) and Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (R-Peru) submitted bills in their respective houses of government in January after the County Legislature passed a resolution, by a vote of 6-1, seeking approval to collect the new tax.

Legislator Paul Maroun (R-Tupper Lake), who works for Little and is mayor of the Village of Tupper Lake, voted against the measure.

He said many of the lodging owners in his constituency oppose a bed tax, “but if the governor indicates that he would sign it, I’d reconsider and possibly vote for it.

“I am willing to look at it, but for the last two years, the governor and Senate coalition have said ‘no new taxes,’” Maroun said. “I think it’s a waste of our time and energy if he’s not going to sign it.” 

WAIT AND SEE

The fee would be charged on each overnight stay at vacation-rental properties, bed-and-breakfasts, cottages, condominiums, hotels and motels.

Senate Bill 5742 is before the Investigations and Government Operations Committee, and Assembly Bill 79 is in front of the Ways and Means Committee.

County Legislature Chairman Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay) said all he and his colleagues can do now is wait to see if state leadership approves the idea.

“We’ll see what they do by the time they recess at the end of June,” he said. “That’s when we’ll know if we make it or break it.”

‘BED TAX NEEDED’

Gov. Andrew Cuomo must also sign any new legislation, and the county’s bed-tax plan got a big endorsement when the co-chairs of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council formalized their support in a letter to the governor three weeks ago.

Co-chairs Garry Douglas, who is also executive director of the North Country Chamber of Commerce, and Clarkson University President Anthony Collins wrote Cuomo that tourism is “one of the most important facets of the North Country economy,” but it needs more investment like a bed tax in order to develop.

They said Franklin County is one of a handful of counties in New York without an occupancy tax, yet — with the Adirondack Mountains and its close proximity to Canada — it is one of the counties in the North Country “with the greatest untapped potential for growth in its tourism economy.”

Douglas and Collins said the Development Council “has unanimously endorsed approval of a long-overdue occupancy tax in Franklin County,” adding that it fits nicely with its overall economic-development strategies for the region.

Should Franklin County get the OK, the County Treasurer’s Office would be expected to guide owners in how to collect the fees by creating an instruction manual, then the office would enforce the tax rules and take in the money.

Legislators believe it would generate $350,000 to $400,000 a year.

The money collected would be used exclusively to promote tourism, so county tax dollars would no longer be used.

The county set aside $223,865 to fund the Tourism Office in the 2014 county budget.

COMMITTEE PREPARING

The legislature created its Tourism Advisory Committee to investigate the details of implementing a bed tax. 

It is made up of representatives from tourist-home, inn, cottage, condominium, vacation-rental ownership, the Wild Center in Tupper Lake, retail/restaurant owners, accommodations, recreational-business owners, camping sites and the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort.

Members have been meeting monthly since last fall to familiarize themselves with existing tourism promotions and campaigns and to determine the direction tourism initiatives should take.

The committee would also decide how bed-tax money is spent, pending final approval of the County Legislature.

Email Denise A. Raymo:draymo@pressrepublican.com

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