MALONE - Franklin County legislators approved 5-1 the institution of a bed tax, and the tax's fate is now in the hands of the state.
The tax would charge people staying for less than 30 days in Franklin County's hotels, motels or other lodgings a 5 percent surcharge, with the proceeds going to marketing tourism for the county.
Board Chairman Billy Jones said after the decision at the board's Thursday meeting that the next step is to reach out to the governor's office and the county's representatives at the state level to drum up support. He said he didn't want to use the word "lobbying," but he said he plans to see a concerted effort to contact them.
Franklin County Legislator Paul Maroun, R-Tupper Lake, speaks out against instituting a bed tax before the board approved it at a Thursday meeting in Malone.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
"It's going to be tough; it's going to be a stretch, but we'll try," Jones said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said since he started office that he won't sign any new taxes into law, but county legislators have said they have heard the governor leave open small chances for certain taxes. The local law creating the tax will need approval from both the state Legislator and Cuomo.
Legislator Paul Maroun, R-Tupper Lake, was the only one to oppose the tax, saying he's fairly confident Cuomo won't sign the bill. Legislator Tim Burpoe, D-Saranac Lake, was not present at Thursday's meeting, but he has been vocal in his support for it over the last few months of hearings and discussion.
After a committee of lodging owners spent about a year working on the law that would create the tax, legislators held two rounds of three hearings - each time holding one in Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake and Malone - on the tax since the beginning of the year. Support was mixed or leaning in favor of the tax in Malone and Saranac Lake, but both times in Tupper Lake, most of the town's motel owners showed up to express their angry opposition to the tax.
Maroun told them at the second hearing that he will vote against the tax, and he followed through on that promise Thursday. He spoke out against it before the law went to a vote.
"This bill is not right for Franklin County," Maroun said.
Franklin County's law was based on Clinton and Essex county's, but Maroun said that Franklin County is different from those two because all but one or two of its motels are mom-and-pop operations. He said some of them still have signs out front that tout "Free HBO" or "Phones in rooms," which are standard in most big hotels these days. The kind of people who stay in places like that, he argued, are not the kind of people who can afford an additional 5 percent surcharge.
He also expressed concern about the bill's enforcement measures. He said it concerns him that the county treasurer would be empowered to send someone to jail through the criminal justice system if they were to violate the law. He said that's too much power for a treasurer.
Maroun said the treasurer will also be given the power to institute his or her own rules or regulations, which is what the county is constantly complaining about state agencies like the Adirondack Park Agency and Department of Environmental Conservation doing.
He said he believes starting the tax at 5 percent is too high, noting that while some other nearby counties may be considering raising their tax to 5 percent, they haven't yet, and they didn't start that high in the first place.
He said the county should split up a third of the proceeds between the villages of Malone, Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake to do their own marketing and tourism programs, noting that efforts that are intended to be county-wide often don't end up that way.
He also expressed concern about how the county will know when county residents rent out a second home for a few weeks.
Maroun said he understands the principal of the tax, but he doesn't believe it's going to work.
"We're not ready for it yet," he said.
All the other legislators present spoke in favor of the bill before passing it, except for the normally loquacious Guy "Tim" Smith, D-Fort Covington. Smith said later that it wasn't for a lack of support, he just didn't have anything to say. He also expressed doubt that the tax would get through the state.
Several legislators said they were against the tax at first but have come around since then.
"Is the bill perfect? No," said Legislator Marc "Tim" Lashomb, R-Malone. "Can we work with it? I think so."
Legislator Gordon Crossman, D-Malone, said that if the tax helps save property taxes for the people of Franklin County, it's a good endeavor. The tax is intended to replace the $176,000 the county contributes toward county tourism, but it won't replace that money until the proceeds are in excess of $350,000 annually.
"We have to move forward," Crossman said.
Legislator Sue Robideau, R-Brushton, said it may take some time for the county to see benefits from the tax, noting the county may need to hire someone temporarily for the treasurer's office to handle the new work, but she said she anticipates long-term benefits.
Jones agreed that if the money raised through the tax is invested wisely, the county could see significant benefits.
"It's an investment in our communities, I feel," Jones said.
Jones noted that Franklin County is one of only a few in the state that don't already have a bed tax. That means the citizens of Franklin County are likely already being subjected to the tax when they visit other places, he said, so the county should start to get some benefit from that.
He noted that the tax would sunset in three years, and he said that if it's not working by then, he'll be the first one to join Maroun in getting rid of it.
Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.