By JESSICA COLLIER
MALONE - Franklin County legislators held another hearing on their proposed 5 percent occupancy tax on hotel and other lodging stays in Malone Thursday night, and this time there were both supporters and detractors to the plan.
Saranac Laker Jacob Kipping, assistant general manager at The Point resort, tells the Franklin County Board of Legislators that his business opposes the 5 percent bed tax the county is considering at a hearing in Malone Thursday night.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
Last week, legislators got an earful from Tupper Lake lodging owners who were angry about a number of things regarding the tax including the proposed percentage, which is higher than most other bed taxes in the state, as well as about not involving local lodging owners in the process and the way the tax money will be spent. Two people also expressed concerns at a hearing the same day in Saranac Lake.
Thursday in Malone, a number of people spoke out in favor of instituting the tax, including Malone town Councilwoman Mary Scharf; Dick LaVigne, who said he has 45 years of experience in hospitality; Malone Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Hugh Hill; bed and breakfast owner Suzanne Hogan; and Derek Sprague, who runs the Malone Golf Club.
Scharf said she travels extensively, staying in hotels regularly, and Franklin County is the first place she's heard of that doesn't have a bed tax.
"It just is there always," Scharf said. "It's part of it. If you travel, you pay the tax."
LaVigne said that since the money generated by the tax will be reinvested into marketing the county for tourism, the benefit is not just the $350,000 it's expected to bring in to replace the money the county budgets for such things.
"It's untold amounts of sales tax that's going to be generated as well," he said.
Not everyone who spoke favored the tax. Jacob Kipping, assistant general manager of The Point resort on Upper Saranac Lake, said his company doesn't like the idea.
"We're kind of against it, and we feel it's going to be detrimental to our business," which still has yet to recover from the latest recession, Kipping said.
He said he just found out about the bed tax after he read about the Saranac Lake hearing in the Enterprise last week, which is why he had to show up to the one in Malone.
The Point is probably the priciest resort in the county, with its cheapest room going for $1,500, according to the resort's website. Kipping said that, judging by the estimated $350,000 in revenue that the bed tax is supposed to create, his property would be responsible for bringing in about a quarter of that.
"We feel we would be highly affected by this," Kipping said.
He also noted that The Point's room rates are bundled with other activities at the resort. On its website, The Point notes that its room rates are all-inclusive for two adults with free use of sports equipment and facilities, gourmet meals, wine and spirits. Kipping said he wonders if their entire rate would be subject to the bed tax or if the lodging aspect of it could be broken out.
If the tax is implemented, the law sets out that a Tourism Advisory Committee would be set up to plan how the money will be spent. It notes that there will be two representatives from the southern end of the county, but Kipping suggested that a study be done to look at the percentage of the bed tax that would come from lodging in the southern end and use that same percentage to put a corresponding number of people on the TAC.
Legislator Sue Robideau, R-Brushton, asked if the bed tax will apply to campgrounds. She said the town of Waverly has a nonprofit campground that is concerned about being taxed.
Chris LaBarge, bed tax committee member and co-owner of the Holiday Inn Express in Malone, said campgrounds aren't included in the current law, but he thinks maybe they should be added.
Gil Paddock, who runs Deer River Campsite in Duane, said he objects to the idea of his campground being included in the bed tax, since his customers bring their beds with them. He's OK with users of the cabins at the campsite being taxed, though.
"If the beds are here, they should be taxed, and I'm in full support of it," Paddock said.
There were also questions about the implementation of the bed tax. Franklin County Industrial Development Agency board member Paul Hogan disagreed with the fact that the TAC would in a way supplant the existing Franklin County Tourism department. Legislator Tim Burpoe, D-Saranac Lake, said the plan is for the TAC to work with the tourism department, not to get rid of it.
The bed tax committee has been regularly using the statistic that Franklin County is only one of two in the state that doesn't have a bed tax, and Ernest Hohmeyer, committee member and owner of the Lake Clear Lodge, cited it again Thursday night.
That number is incorrect, though, as Paul Hogan noted. According to information from the state comptroller's office and the New York State Association of Counties, there were 10 of New York's 62 counties in 2011 that didn't collect a bed tax. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has refused to sign any new taxes into law since he took office in 2011, so that number is probably still accurate.
County board Chairman Billy Jones said the bed tax committee is already working on scheduling another committee meeting and will discuss the feedback it got from the hearings. Hohmeyer said he thinks the committee should rework the proposed law, make it widely available in towns across the county, then hold another round of hearings.
Tupper Lake's representative on the Board of Legislators, Paul Maroun, said he is planning to meet with his town's lodging owners in the coming weeks to let them fully air their concerns.
Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.