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Occupancy, mortgage taxes see revenue increases from last year

ELIZABETHTOWN — A handful of county department heads delivered their annual reports to the Essex County Board of Supervisors Wednesday, Feb. 12, bringing rays of cautious optimism to a cash-strapped county.

County treasurer Michael Diskin told the finance committee that occupancy tax generated $1.9 million in revenue for the county in 2013, up $120,000 from 2012 (6.7 percent) making it the largest amount of revenue generated since the tax was implemented in 2000.

Westport town supervisor Daniel Connell told the board he hoped a “small slice” of that revenue would be made available to promote smaller towns like Westport, namely for funding their struggling visitor center and promoting specific events.

“We have four or five bed and breakfasts,” he said. “We contribute.”

Connell said an additional $3,000 or $4,000 to help promote his community would produce a significant return.

He asked Diskin about receiving some additional funds from the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism (ROOST), the agency to which 95 percent of the occupancy tax revenue is handed over to promote the county.

“I wish we could take a look at this,” Connell concluded. “A little bit of money would increase tourism and keep our visitor centers open. It’s a small impact [on ROOST] but a huge impact on individual towns. What I’m asking for is a way the towns might receive a set amount, something that we can budget in our tourism-related activities.”

“You’d have to address that with them,” said Diskin.

Connell, who said that he was very appreciative of everything that ROOST has done for the region, later told the Valley News that while Westport has discussed the idea of reaching out to the agency at board meetings, they haven’t yet contacted them directly.

“If the occupancy tax doesn’t grow, we’re not doing our job,” said ROOST chief James McKenna, who attributed the increase from last year, in part, to the recently-opened Hampton Inn and Suites in Lake Placid, a facility that upped the county’s total number of hotel rooms by five percent.

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