MALONE - Franklin County legislators plan to bring their proposed bed tax to a board vote next week after more than a year of work on the issue and six public hearings.
Legislators put the finishing touches on the proposed law at a work session Thursday. They hope to institute a 5 percent tax on stays shorter than 30 days in hotels, motels and other lodging in the county so they can put the money toward tourism marketing.
"Nothing left to do but offer it up for a vote, I guess," said county Attorney Jonathan Miller at the end of the work session.
On Thursday, they made a number of small changes in the law, fixing grammar, spelling and layout here and there.
They also took out any reference to "conventions." Several parts of the law previously made reference to "marketing tourism and conventions," but some lodging owners expressed concern about that at hearings held on the topic. The wording of the law was largely taken from similar laws in other counties, but locals said there aren't any conventions that come to Franklin County, and nothing else about conventions is spelled out in the law.
Legislator Tim Burpoe, D-Saranac Lake, asked what happens if someone wants to put on a convention in Franklin County. Other legislators responded that it would fall under the tourism flag.
"It's semantics," said Legislator Gordon Crossman, D-Malone.
They also changed wording in the law to set out that the law will go into effect once state approval is finalized. The law previously stated that it would happen when it is filed with the state, but it would need approval from the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo after that.
Burpoe noted that Jacob Kipping, assistant general manager at The Point resort on Upper Saranac Lake, was concerned about having time to prepare his business's computer systems to implement the tax. Burpoe said it might be a good idea to enlist local chambers of commerce to help educate businesses about implementing the tax.
At two hearings on the tax, Kipping also expressed concern about his many customers who book their rooms well in advance based on an agreed-upon price. He said his company doesn't like the idea of having to add the tax to people who have already essentially signed a contract for the amount they will pay to stay at the point in two years.
Legislators included language in the law Thursday that would allow for that exception. Miller said it would have to be a bona fide booking, with written proof of the agreement.
Miller also made a few small changes that emphasize that while a newly created Tourism Advisory Committee will create a plan for tourism marketing in the county, the county board will have the final say over how the money raised through the tax is spent.
Crossman noted that the law spells out the exact number the Tourism Promotion Area, which is currently a one-person county tourism department, gets and will continue to get from the county: $176,000. He said he's not comfortable being locked into that amount, since the county is having budget problems.
Burpoe said he thinks changing the number would constitute a substantive change, which would mean the board would need to hold another round of hearings on the law. The first two rounds of hearings - held in Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake and Malone - were rough for legislators, at least in Tupper Lake, where they heard a lot of criticism about the law and other issues. Board Chairman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay, said the county can't go much lower on the number and still have a tourism program.
Legislators compromised by adding "approximately" before the figure.
"It gives us a little wiggle room," Miller said.
Miller noted that the law lasts for three years before it has to be renewed, so that number isn't locked in forever.
Miller also added wording to clarify term lengths for the TAC members. The first appointees will serve a variety of term lengths from one to three years, but after their first term, each appointee would serve three-year terms. That was the original intent, but it wasn't made clear in previous drafts of the bills, Miller said.
Some people had asked for reimbursement for administrating the tax, which they said the state does for some taxes. But Burpoe said he's been told by Essex County business owners that the tax raises their gross revenue, increasing the total money in their bank accounts for a quarter until they have to pay the tax, making it look like they have more money.
"I think that's their payment," Burpoe said.
Legislator Paul Maroun, R-Tupper Lake, is the only board member to say he will vote against the tax. A number of motel owners in Tupper Lake have been outspoken against the tax, saying their customers can't afford it. Maroun was not at Thursday's meeting.
Legislators plan to take a final vote on the law at their May 2 regular meeting at the county courthouse in Malone.
Contact Jessica Collier at 518-891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.