Occupancy tax law finally approved

PLATTSBURGH The Clinton County Legislature has approved a long-discussed 3-percent occupancy tax, but the approval didnt come without opposition. Legislators voted 7-1 in favor of the proposal at the boards Aug. 13 meeting, with Legislator Samuel J. Trombley, R-Area 2, casting the sole opposing vote. New York State is in a recession. Thats no secret; everyone knows that, said Trombley. I do not believe the timing is right to be adding a 3-percent room tax here in Clinton County. The legislator further pleaded his case by noting it was less than a year ago the county sales tax was increased from 3.75 percent to 4 percent, further increasing the cost of doing business in the area. Clinton County is getting to be quite an expensive place to visit, said Trombley. Legislator Sara E. Rowden, D-Area 4, disagreed, stating the increase in cost for the average hotel room in Clinton County would be nominal. A $70 room, she gave as an example, would see an approximately $2.10 additional charge. Somebodys not going to go to another county because they have to pay two extra dollars, because if they go to another county, that county probably has a 4- to 6-percent tax, said Rowden, who added Clinton County was only one of four in the state not to charge an occupancy tax. This is one of the things I think that is helping us help ourselves. Legislator Dr. Robert W. Heins, R-Area 10, said unlike a property tax, the tax would primarily be paid by those traveling from out of the area. The monies collected from the occupancy tax, which are estimated to be $300,000 a year, will be used to promote the area through tourism efforts of the Plattsburgh-North Country Chamber of Commerce. The expected additional tourists would mean more money spent in the area and additional sales tax revenue generated for the county, he said. If this legislative group is wise enough to take that sales tax money and not increase a lot of programs, well be able to keep our property tax under control, and I think thats the thing we ought to be looking at, Heins said. After further discussion, the motion was approved. Legislators Harry McManus, D-Area 1, and Jacqueline A. Walker, R-Area 8, were absent. Chamber President Garry F. Douglas applauded the adoption of the local law, stating it would help the chamber achieve marketing objectives established for the coming year. Those objectives include attracting fishing tournaments and other events to the area and the tourists that come with them. Were just so pleased by this action tonight and really consider it an historic step forward in marketing this area and building job growth and prosperity in this area, Douglas said. The approval of the occupancy tax, also known as a bed tax, didnt come as upsetting news to Scott Carpenter, either. Carpenter serves as operations manager of the Econo Lodge, an 85-unit chain motel on State Route 3 in the town of Plattsburgh. He said he was aware the issue had been under discussion for several years, dating back as early as the 1990s, though efforts to push the tax forward were sporadic until now. The franchise director who oversees our property and several other properties in the northeast was shocked that we didnt have a bed tax, said Carpenter. Other cities such as Lake Placid, Lake George and Albany have had occupancy taxes in their counties for years, he said, noting Clinton County shouldnt be any different. It puts more money into the chamber where they can go out and lure things in like the big fishing tournaments and secure them for the future which will only generate business for us, he said. To promote the area, youve got to have the money. Creston Billings, owner of Point Au Roche Lodge in the town of Beekmantown, agreed. Three percent is not that much; its not going to break anybody, he said. The summer months tend to be the busiest time for his eight-room lodge near Lake Champlain, said Billings. Even though the tax will mean an increase in cost for his guests, he doesnt feel it will deter them from choosing to stay at his lodge. The summer is always busy; in the winter weve got locals who stay with us and people traveling on business, said Billings. This wont stop them. Were all for [the tax]. The occupancy tax will take effect Oct. 1. It will not be applicable to those who take permanent residence in lodging facilities for periods of 90 consecutive days or more, including those placed there for temporary housing by the Department of Social Services, said county administrator Michael E. Zurlo. Campgrounds are also exempt from the new local law.

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