A supervisor is floating the idea of introducing a hotel room occupancy tax to support tourism programs under threat as Fulton County tries to balance its budget.
The state Legislature would have to approve the tax if the county Board of Supervisors decides to implement it.
Johnstown Ward 3 Supervisor John Callery’s proposal has the support of the Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry and at least one hotelier. Both had opposed the so-called bed tax for years. Callery raised the prospect of imposing the bed tax during Monday’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting, where Budget Director Alice Kuntzsch outlined a bleak financial picture for the county.
Kuntzsch said supervisors have to trim $3.2 million from the property tax levy to meet the state’s new cap on property tax increases, which in Fulton County’s case would be 3.75 percent. As written now, the tentative $93.8 million budget carries a 16 percent tax levy increase.
Callery said the bed tax is a way to help support Fulton County’s tourism industry. “One of the things I support is tourism. Without that, Fulton County will die. We need every tourist we can get,” he said.
He said the county is facing severe economic restraints and the board is looking at cutting non-mandated programs to trim the tax increase. “But we can’t afford to tax anyone anymore. The bed tax is a user fee,” he said. “This is just a thought, and it is not the answer to our problems. It is a Band-Aid, and it could keep a few programs operating.”
Terry Swierzowski, director of tourism for the chamber, said state statistics show tourism generates $26 million annually for Fulton County. The county has 300 hotel rooms, she said.
She said the chamber’s executive board thinks the time is opportune to consider the tax and will discuss the proposal at its meeting this morning. “We have talked about it with the Board of Supervisors. The bed tax would help fund tourism programs. That is what it does in many other counties in New York state,” she said.
Swierzowski said the county could use bed tax funds as a match for tourism grants the chamber will receive from the state. “The county allowed us to apply for matching funds, but the county can’t promise they will provide a match,” she said.
She also said that $72,000 in the 2012 county budget, which is used to support her salary, the Visitors’ Center in Vail Mills and community events, is in danger of elimination, just like larger budget items such as the Sheriff Department’s road patrol, the Office for Aging and the Planning Department.
“In these economic times, where counties are looking to cut everything, it is getting harder to support tourism,” Swierzowski said. “It needs to be supported in some form.”
Almost all counties in the state have bed taxes, she said. Schenectady County, for example, levies a 4 percent surcharge on overnight stays in hotels and motels. It distributes the money to local nonprofit arts and cultural organizations, which in turn may spend it in a way that lures more people to visit and spend money there.
Callery said he does not have a specific percentage in mind yet for a bed tax.
Jim Landrio, general manager of the Holiday Inn in Johnstown and a member of the chamber’s executive board, said he supports a bed tax after years of opposing it. “It is a doable situation. It is another source of revenue that promotes tourism,” he said.
He did raise a concern about the proposal: “My concern about the bed tax is that it is solely used in the promotion of tourism and for nothing else.”
Landrio said many counties use the bed tax for general operating purposes and said that he would oppose such a use in Fulton County. “It should be used to promote the hotel industry,” he said.
He said he opposed a bed tax in the past because it affects business. “Guests are cautious about add-ons to room rates,” he said, though adding that times are economically trying and something needs to be done to support the tourism industry.
Callery said he will propose the bed tax at Monday’s Board of Supervisor’s Finance Committee meeting. “I would like to move it through finance and then bring it to board that afternoon. The board can then make a resolution for home rule legislation for the state Legislature,” he said.
The Legislature is out of session until January, but Callery said he believes he has support for the proposal among the area’s state legislators, even though they have indicated they could not support a new tax.
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Categories: Schenectady County