(Press-Republican (Plattsburgh, NY) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 16--ELIZABETHTOWN -- A record $1.9 million-plus in Essex County occupancy tax was collected in 2013.
Essex County Treasurer Michael Diskin said that figure -- representing a 3 percent tax on hotel and motel rooms -- was up from $1.7 million in 2012.
"We barely reached $1 million when we started (in 2000)," he told the County Board of Supervisors Finance Committee recently. "We gained quite a bit from when we started."
In 2009 -- the year before the lodging tax took effect -- Essex County gave $394,000 to the Lake Placid-Essex County Visitors Bureau, now known as the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, or ROOST, to promote Essex County.
Supervisor Gerald Morrow (D-Chesterfield) said he remembers that time, when tourism promotion was on the county property tax.
"There was a lot of discussion back then that it (a bed tax) was going to hurt tourism. The proof is in the figures. The occupancy tax doubled."
Viable promotion of the county also increases sales-tax receipts, he noted.
"It helps your county budget. I think it's one of the best things Essex County ever did."
Morrow said most people don't even notice the tax when they rent a room.
In 2012, the county asked the State Legislature for permission to increase the tax by 2 percent, a move estimated to generate another $1 million to $1.2 million annually.
The increase would go into county coffers for distribution to tourism-related enterprises.
The legislature took no action on the request, and Supervisor Randy Preston (I-Wilmington) said he doesn't believe it will.
"I was told it will not happen," he said, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo is opposed to any new taxes.
Diskin said he still recommends increasing the tax by going to the legislature again to try for approval.
The treasurer said the legislation that created the county lodging tax obligates it to give 95 percent to the Visitors Bureau/ROOST.
The remaining 5 percent is retained by the county for administrative purposes.
Supervisor Daniel Connell (D-Westport) said he'd like to allocate a small portion of the bed tax to economic development in Essex County.
Diskin told lawmakers the legislation requires that the county OK the ROOST marketing plan for spending the occupancy tax.
"You have to approve their plan. Put it in their plan."
NEW HOTEL CONTRIBUTED
ROOST President James McKenna said in a later interview that the increase in tax funds is mostly because the 100-room Whiteface Inn of Lake Placid opened in July 2013.
"That was a 5 percent increase in rooms."
The upscale inn charges premium rates, which also factors in, McKenna said.
"It's a combination of occupancy and rates. All that adds up quickly" to generate more tax revenue.
"That gives us quantification that the things we're doing (to market the area) are good. Demand (for rooms) went up considerably this year, which means more people are coming."
McKenna said that in 2014 they're going to be working on more destination product development to increase lodging occupancy in communities throughout the county.
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