LAKE PLACID - Essex County officials are in the early stages of discussing an increase in the occupancy tax charged to those who stay in hotels, but they could face hurdles from the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Randy Douglas, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, said an increase would help the county and take the burden off of property taxes, but he is unsure if the Legislature and governor would allow them home-rule authority to raise the current rate of 3 percent on hotel and motel rooms.
"What we would probably do is put some of it into infrastructure and repairs," The Democrat from Jay said. "But it certainly needs more discussion."
The county fish hatchery in Crown Point is one facility Douglas said could benefit from the money.
In 2012, the county supervisors planned, but failed, to raise the tax to 5 percent. The 2012 plan would have split the funds four ways, 25 percent for the county fish hatchery, 25 percent to the tourism product development fund, 4 percent for visitor transportation and 46 percent for offseason marketing programs.
The occupancy tax was originally set up to give 95 percent of the funds raised to the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism and the remaining 5 percent to the county.
North Elba town Supervisor Roby Politi said he will not support the increase unless a majority of the funds go to tourism.
"My feeling has always been I will never support an increase in the occupancy tax unless it supports tourism in the region," Politi said.
North Elba top tax earner
North Elba, which includes Lake Placid, Ray Brook and part of Saranac Lake, has set a record for the highest amount of occupancy tax collected in one year in Essex County with a total of $1,696,201 in 2013, an increase of $115,128 from 2012.
According to the Essex County treasury department, North Elba has seen year-over-year increases since 2009.
Jim McKenna, the president of ROOST, said the increase over the years in North Elba is due to a combination of three things: hotel rooms available, occupancy and hotel room rates. He added that the big jump in 2013 was expected due to the Hampton Inn & Suites opening in Lake Placid.
"The biggest effect was an increase in rooms available," McKenna said. "A 100-room hotel opened up in 2013."
The total occupancy tax collected from 2001 to 2013 for all of Essex County was $20,463,726. The amount collected from North Elba during that 13-year period is $18,169,118, or 88 percent of the total from all 18 towns.
McKenna said ROOST is focusing on the winter season, which usually is slower than summer for tourism.
"Visitors come here primarily for the Adirondacks," he said.
The Olympics certainly gives Lake Placid an edge in name recognition, he said.
"But long-term, it's the Adirondacks," McKenna said.
The other top-earning towns include Ticonderoga with $55,593 in 2013 and a total of $557,959 since 2001, Wilmington with $54,755 in 2013 and $596,277 since 2001, and Keene with $47,812 in 2013 and $424,212 since 2001.