Occupancy board may be axed

Montgomery County may eliminate a panel charged with making recommendations on how occupancy tax mon

Montgomery County may eliminate a panel charged with making recommendations on how occupancy tax money is spent to promote tourism.

The county collects a 4 percent tax on bills at hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts, and some representatives from the lodging industry are questioning whether they are seeing any benefit from the spending.

The seven-member board meets about every two months, said county Treasurer Shawn Bowerman, a member of the county’s occupancy tax advisory board.

County Board of Supervisors Chairman Vito Greco said two factors have led to the proposal to eliminate the occupancy board. The board hasn’t met on a regular basis, and when it makes recommendations, the county’s Board of Supervisors aren’t inclined to act on them.

The OTAB last summer made a recommendation that the county put $2,000 more toward the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce’s tourism promotion. Supervisors boosted that contribution to $11,000.

At that time, members of the occupancy board, representing the county’s lodging industry, sought more information on what the county was receiving for the money given to the chamber, and the occupany board never got a response, Bowerman said.

“They [lodging owners and occupany board members] didn’t feel the chamber was giving them their due because they’re the ones that actually collect and pay the occupancy tax,” Bowerman said.

Ron Hezel, owner of the Inn By the Mill bed and breakfast in St. Johnsville, addressed members of the county Board of Supervisors’ planning and development committee this week and said he’s losing business to nearby Herkimer County, which doesn’t collect an occupancy tax.

About 20 establishments in Montgomery County collected $124,320 in occupancy tax in 2006.

The money is dedicated to tourism, so the bulk of it goes to the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce as the county’s designated tourism contractor. Most of the money the chamber spends on tourism promotion goes toward the I Love NY tourism promotion program, which qualifies for a matching state grant. But the I Love NY promotion is broad-based and not Montgomery County-specific, critics argue.

Hezel said from what he’s seen, lodging in the county has realized little if any results from that spending.

“We at the bed and breakfasts are putting the money in,” Hezel said.

Seven bed and breakfast establishments in the county collected about 6 percent of the roughly $100,000 in bed tax money collected last year, Bowerman said.

One of the biggest contributors to the occupancy tax fund is the Best Value Inn in Amsterdam. Manager Susan Maye said tourism promotion in the county is predominantly geared to the busy summer season.

But that’s when lodging establishments are already getting customers unable to find rooms around Saratoga, Lake George and the Great Sacandaga Lake region.

“I just wish they’d use some of it more to promote something after September, October and November,” Maye said.

“We need a winter fest, we need a fall fest of some sort, something like that to get people to come after [the busy season],” Maye said.

Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce President Debbie Auspelmyer said the chamber itself, through committees, already intends to explore the fairness and need for an occupancy tax.

Auspelmyer said the topic brings up many issues that should be discussed and explored by all those involved.

It’s unclear if the occupancy tax inhibits people’s desire to visit the county, or if they actually care about an additional 4 percent tax.

“Whether or not the bed tax is actually hurting or helping is an agenda item for this year. Is there a more equitable way to fund tourism in Montgomery County? I think that definitely needs to be looked at,” Auspelmyer said.

Best Value’s Maye said customers typically notice the bed tax when they pay their bill, but not when they book a room.

Amsterdam 4th Ward Supervisor David Dybas said he supports the elimination of the occupancy tax advisory board but he’s concerned about the tax itself. In the absence of an oversight board, there wouldn’t really be an entity to ensure that the tax is being collected.

“At least the board was there and would look at it. I am in total favor of doing away with OTAB as long as there is an appropriate audit function that says this is happening properly and I don’t believe the chamber of commerce can be charged with doing that,” Dybas said.

County board Chairman Greco said it’s likely the county government will eliminate the occupancy board and maintain the tax.

Greco said he expects supervisors’ planning and development committee would assume oversight responsibility. Supervisors might also consider a moratorium on the tax or other proposal, he said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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