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Essex County renews occupancy tax as towns push for bigger cuts

ELIZABETHTOWN — Essex County lawmakers voted unanimously on Tuesday, June 3 to ensure the sweet sounds of the county’s summertime lifeline — the cha-ching of the cash register — will resonate for at least another three years.

The county’s board of supervisors is required to approve the renewal of the three percent occupancy tax on lodgings that has brought in more than $20 million since its initial imposition in 2000.

Ninety-five percent of that number is turned over to the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism (ROOST), the agency tasked with marketing outreach, to promote tourist attractions within the county.

The remaining five percent is used by the county for operating costs.

Despite passing unanimously, several lawmakers and local officials revisited a common refrain: We want more.

‘JUST A LITTLE PIECE’

Moriah Chamber of Commerce President Tim Bryant said his organization does a lot to promote their lakeside town with little resources.

The chamber’s operating budget is $12,000 per year. Half of that, he told lawmakers at the meeting, goes to fundraising. The other half goes toward operating costs. The prolonged uncertainty makes it difficult for the chamber to plan accordingly, he said, a situation that is not unique when it comes to other towns in the county.

“It’s hard to have a three-year plan when you don’t know how much funds you’re going to have,” he said.

He said there used to be 22 empty storefronts in downtown Port Henry.

Now there are none, a transformation he said is a testament to their efforts.

“Festivals and cultural events are an important part of our experience,” he said. “With some funding from the occupancy tax, we could do a whole lot more.”

Bryant said the towns that don’t receive direct funding from ROOST indirectly support those that do because tourists trickle outward due to a lack of developed infrastructure.

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