Essex County officials: How should extra money be used?

Essex County supervisors mulled potential uses for higher-than-expected occupancy tax revenues during a Jan. 20 meeting of the county finance committee.

Altogether, the county collected $1.56 million from occupancy tax in 2008, with still more due to be paid. The total is six percent higher than what was estimated in the budget.

By rule, 95 percent of those revenues must be used for the promotion of tourism, but that amount exceeds the $1.475 million the county had approved to give the Lake Placid/Essex County Visitors Bureau.

That left some supervisors wondering if the extra money could stay with the county.

"Each town has some different special events that we hold throughout the year," noted Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava, who asked if the approximately $100,000 still left to be collected could be split amongst the town governments.

However, as County Attorney Dan Manning explained, the money is specifically directed to go to the visitors bureau by law.

"For some strange reason, Lake Placid Visitor's Bureau is named right in our law," Manning said. "If you open up the law book and look at 30 or 40 of these things, ours is the only one that is named."

Still, board approval was needed for the visitors bureau to receive the additional funds, prompting visitors bureau director Mark McKenna to attend the board's Jan. 26 Ways and Means committee meeting.

McKenna requested to increase the contract by an additional $110,000 and explained that the extra funds would be put toward additional programs to support tourism, temporarily offsetting promised state funds that have yet to be awarded.

"We also want to increase our group tour activity which is predominantly the bus tour traffic," said McKenna, referring to the new Mountain Valley Shuttle service operating with stops in Jay, Wilmington, and Lake Placid. "Now that we have two towns that can handle full buses, we think we have a better opportunity to keep them in here."

McKenna mentioned expanding public relations efforts in Metropolitan areas like Montreal and New Jersey, as well as maintaining previously scaled-back funding for destination planning.

"We also have $30,000 earmarked for [Quadricentennial] celebrations," he said. "Again, a lot of the state money has been held up there so we want to jump start that program."

Praising McKenna's plans for the additional funds, the committee ultimately voted in favor of it.

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