ELIZABETHTOWN - A proposal to increase Essex County's bed tax to 5 percent is taking a little nap.
On Tuesday, the county's Board of Supervisors voted 15-1 to table a resolution that would begin the process to hike the 3 percent occupancy tax on hotel and lodging stays by 2 percent. Several lawmakers said they weren't clear on how the additional revenue would be used and wanted to take more time to discuss details of the plan.
To increase the bed tax, the county first has to request home-rule authority from the state Legislature. If approved, it would be sent back to Essex County lawmakers, who would need to adopt a local law and set a public hearing, according to county Attorney Dan Manning.
"When it goes to Albany and the Legislature deals with that, they're assuming that you've thought all of these things out," Newcomb town Supervisor George Canon said. "And if we're still discussing what we want that legislation to say, we're going to look pretty silly. ... You ought to argue out all of these little details on percentages and come to an agreement before you send it to Albany."
Ninety-five percent of the revenue collected through the 3 percent bed tax goes to the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism for marketing efforts. That funding wouldn't be affected under the current proposal. Instead, the additional 2 percent would be split up four ways:
-25 percent for operating and management of the county fish hatchery in Crown Point
-25 percent for a tourism product development fund
-4 percent for visitor transportation
-46 percent for offseason marketing programs.
Those figures were proposed by Wilmington town Supervisor Randy Preston at a meeting last week. When Moriah town Supervisor Tom Scozzafava asked for more details about them on Tuesday, Preston said they were only suggestions, but he was firm on his proposal to use bed tax revenue to fund the fish hatchery.
"What maybe the average public doesn't understand out there is every year the fish hatchery is on the chopping block - every single year," he said. "We need to come up with some ideas to get some of this off the property tax."
Earlier in the meeting, Fred Balzac, owner of the Book and Blanket Bed and Breakfast in Jay, told supervisors that adding 2 percent to the bed tax hurts customers who are looking for cheaper lodging. His bed and breakfast charges $75 to $105 per night.
"This economy has not been very good for the small lodging properties," said Balzac, who belonged to the Occupancy Tax Committee in the late 1990s when the bed tax was first implemented. "We really have to work very hard at filling rooms. I think what we're finding is that people at the lower end really have to think hard about whether they want to spend money on a room."
Balzac urged supervisors to speak with hotel and motel owners. He said the board should look at increasing the bed tax on "premium rooms."
Supervisors like Preston and Keene's Bill Ferebee said they've spoken to lodging property owners in their communities and that most of them aren't concerned about losing customers to a 5 percent bed tax.
"I can't see where 2 percent on a room is going to turn anyone away," Preston said.
Balzac also said that hotel and motel owners outside of Lake Placid "really don't see a lot of benefit from the marketing that they (ROOST staff) do.
"They do a great job for Lake Placid and for the Adirondacks as a whole," he said. "They don't really help us in Jay, and I believe, if you talked to other property owners in other towns, that they would say the same thing."
Elizabethtown town Supervisor Margaret Bartley agreed. She said her local chamber of commerce doesn't benefit from ROOST's efforts and that the additional revenue should be made available to towns like Moriah, Minerva and Newcomb.
"Right now, ROOST money is not available," Bartley said.
Minerva town Supervisor Sue Montgomery-Corey said her community is preparing for the state to open up former Finch, Pruyn timberlands to public use, but her town doesn't have the resources to market the new tourism opportunities.
Before the discussion ended, Canon reminded supervisors that 85 percent of the revenue generated by the bed tax comes from Lake Placid hotels and motels.
"That 2 percent that we're talking about adding is going to come from Lake Placid; that's where the money is going to be generated that we're all spending right now," he said.
"Thank you," North Elba town Supervisor Roby Politi responded.
Politi has expressed reservations about increasing the bed tax.
Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.