MALONE - Assemblywoman Janet Duprey says she'll reintroduce Franklin County's occupancy tax bill to the state Assembly.
During Thursday's Franklin County Legislator meeting, Duprey told legislators they have made the right steps in pushing the bill forward. Now it's in the hands of state legislators.
The local law creating the tax needs approval from both the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Assemblywoman Janet Duprey speaks to the Franklin County Board of Legislators Thursday.
(Enterprise photo — Shaun Kittle)
"As you know, last year it didn't pass the Senate," Duprey said. "It didn't go forward the very last day of the session, but we're definitely ready to try again."
The Republican from Peru said she's confident the bill will get Sen. Betty Little's support as well. Gaining a majority vote from the Senate might be more difficult, though.
Duprey said there were 10 requests in the Assembly last year for occupancy tax increases from counties that already have the tax. None of those requests passed the Senate, and only four passed the Assembly: three in Westchester County and one in Orange County.
Implementing a new tax during an election year could prove to be another difficult hurdle.
"It's not a new tax on your residents, so I'm a supporter of it," Duprey said. "Part of the issue, and both parties do it, is when you get right up to the last weekend in elections with hotly contested races you get the flyers and the TV ads that say, 'Joe Smith voted 58 times to raise your taxes.' Even though that's misleading, people are afraid of the attacks just before elections, and this is an election year."
Franklin and Hamilton are the only two counties in the state that don't have an occupancy tax. In Franklin County, the proposed tax would impose a 5 percent fee on overnight guests.
"We have letters from most of the hotel owners supporting it," Duprey said. "We have a couple opposing it, but the vast majority were supporting it."
Duprey said as much as 10 percent of the tax money could get tied up in the county, but the rest would go toward promoting tourism in the county via the newly formed Tourism Advisory Committee, which would decide how the money is spent.
Legislator Paul Maroun, R-Tupper Lake, has been an outspoken opponent of the tax. Maroun is also the mayor of the village of Tupper Lake.
Last year, after a committee of lodging owners spent about a year working on the law that would create the tax, legislators held two rounds of three hearings: in Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake and Malone. Support was mixed or leaning in favor of the tax in Malone and Saranac Lake, but both times in Tupper Lake, most of the town's motel owners showed up to express angry opposition.
Maroun has said the county isn't ready for the tax, and it should instead split up a third of the proceeds between the villages of Malone, Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake to do their own marketing and tourism programs. He said efforts that are intended to be county-wide often don't end up that way.
Maroun didn't comment on the tax during Thursday's meeting, but later he told the Enterprise he still opposes it.
"Every motel in my district, with the exception of maybe one, opposes it," Maroun said. "What I've said to the people that are advancing it is, when the governor tells us that he is going to sign the bill I will then reconsider my vote. Why go through all this time, energy and effort when the governor isn't even going to support it? We're getting people on all sides upset for nothing. If the governor's office says they're going to support, I'll reconsider my position and probably support it."
Legislator Barbara Rice, D-Saranac Lake, is new to the board this year. She thanked Duprey for supporting the tax and said it will have a resounding positive effect on the county.
"We're one of only two counties in New York that doesn't have it, and that's something in and of itself," Rice told the Enterprise after the meeting. "That's something that's worked in every other county really well. We need a way to continue to fund tourism that does not come out of the general fund, that is not on the backs of our taxpayers. This is a no-brainer. We're building two hotels in the Saranac Lake community, and we need to be on our game in terms of marketing and branding."
Contact Shaun Kittle at 891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.