Chamber alliance unveils economic initiatives, pushes bed tax

Conversation yesterday ranged from a dark skies initiative in Tupper Lake to the marketing of potatoes for vodka in the town of Brighton.

But one issue stood out in particular: a push to establish an occupancy tax in Franklin County, which is currently one of only two counties statewide that doesn't charge a tax on hotel rooms.

Backers of an occupancy tax - sometimes referred to as a bed tax - say the additional revenue would go directly toward marketing efforts in Franklin County.

Neighboring Essex County collects 3 percent of a room's total cost, which amounts to more than one million dollars annually. 95 percent of that money goes to the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism for destination marketing.

Statewide, the bed tax is closer to 4.5 percent.

Nelson says the benefits of enacting an occupancy tax are real - but convincing lawmakers to approve a new tax could be a daunting task. She adds, though, that hotel owners have been supportive.

"They're the ones that will be burdened with taking that tax," Nelson said. "People need to understand that we're one of two counties in the state that doesn't collect this tax. These other counties take these funds and reinvest it in the tourism industry - you get clear results from that."

When the chamber alliance first proposed a bed tax earlier this month, Franklin County Legislator Paul Maroun said it wasn't a top priority for county lawmakers.

But his colleague, Tim Lashomb, sang a different tune Wednesday.

"We see the struggles that we're facing right now," he said. "Tourism is probably one of our biggest assets that we have in Franklin County. We need to promote it more and we're more than willing to do it. The legislation has to be done first, and that won't come too quickly. I think you can be assured that what you're talking about, we're on the same page."

Hill from the Malone chamber says hospitality businesses in northern Franklin County understand the need for an occupancy tax.

"Most of our hospitality businesses understand the value of tourism and want to see more of it," he said. "Tourism is an easy sell."

Early figures estimate that Franklin County could draw about $300,000 in revenue through a bed tax, but Nelson stressed those numbers are not set in stone.

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