TUPPER LAKE - Two members of Franklin County's Tourism Advisory Committee explained the role of that committee to the town board last week.
Hotelier Chris LaBarge and Fawn Tatro, Franklin County Tourism Administrator, spoke on behalf of TAC, which was formed last May by the Franklin County Board of Legislators to decide how the county's annual tourism funds would be spent after the county took over tourism from the Franklin County Industrial Development Agency.
County legislators included $125,000 in this year's budget to fund TAC, but the legislators are counting on a proposed occupancy tax going through to fund the committee in the future.
The local law creating the tax needs approval from both the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Last year it failed to pass in the state Senate. If passed, it would impose a 5 percent fee on overnight guests in Franklin County.
"We're hoping to gain support from (Assemblywoman) Janet Duprey and (Senator) Betty Little to move that through the legislation so we can put it on the governor's desk for support," LaBarge said. "$125,000 to promote Franklin County is really not a lot of money. The county right now is probably, just for hotels and motels in Franklin County, somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 to 10 million (dollars) in total revenue. Call it 10 million. At 5 percent, that's half a million dollars to spread throughout the county to promote the assets we have here."
LaBarge added that the approximately 70 hotel and motel rooms in Tupper Lake would contribute about $170,000 to that $500,000 total.
"The tax would bring new money into Tupper Lake," LaBarge said. "Instead of imposing the fee on the taxpayers and coming out of the budget, they're getting it from people that come into the county instead of local residents."
Franklin County Legislator and village Mayor Paul Maroun has consistently voted against the occupancy tax, saying most motel owners in his district oppose it and also that Gov. Andrew Cuomo would never support it.
"What we've heard from the governor is no new taxes, but what is the level of support the governor has provided to the North Country over the last four or five years that is directly related to tourism?" LaBarge asked. "I don't think there's a better opportunity. We're a three-time winner in the state of New York for development grants, the only one in the state. It's hard to believe that if we get it on his desk that it won't pass through. For people to say he won't sign it, I think that's a cop-out."
Development grants are something LaBarge has first-hand experience with. Last year, he received a $2 million Regional Economic Development Council grant to build a hotel on Lake Flower Ave. in Saranac Lake.
TAC consists of a nine-member board, appointed by the county legislators, which makes recommendations regarding tourism-based initiatives directly to the Franklin County Board of Legislators. Tupper Lake has two representatives on that board: chamber of commerce Events Coordinator Michelle Clement and The Wild Center nature museum Executive Director Stephanie Ratcliffe.
LaBarge and Tatro said TAC's top priority is to develop a destination master plan for Franklin County, something surrounding counties have.
"It gives some perspective to a county on what its assets are," LaBarge said. "Then when you go to put out an RFP (request for proposal) to different companies you can say there's some uniqueness to your town. There is a unique difference from Malone to where I live up north and what we have down here. How do you get the most bang for your buck from a marketing perspective in Franklin County? We're trying to get organized so we can make some good decisions as we move forward, and that's the basis of the destination marketing plan."
LaBarge said TAC is currently looking to hire a company to develop the county's destination marketing plan.
Tupper Lake town Supervisor Patti Littlefield asked how a county-wide plan would benefit Tupper Lake specifically.
"Right now, with the minimal funds, we're trying to take that $125,000 and distribute it throughout the county," LaBarge said. "The company we choose will take the current data and create a plan. The interesting thing about Tupper Lake is, a lot of the assets that you have are kind of identified through Saranac Lake and some of the work that's been done in Essex (County), but there's a lot of uniqueness that hasn't been clearly identified here. As you develop that, that comes into our overall plan to show the differences in those areas. We need to spell out that uniqueness in the destination marketing plan. That's what we want to do for Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake and the Malone area."
Saranac Lake currently has its own destination marketing plan that was created in a partnership with Essex County. Malone also has a seven-year-old destination marketing plan. LaBarge said each town could use TAC's destination marketing plan when issuing a request for proposal or when seeking grants.
Town Councilman John Quinn said Tupper Lake could stand to gain a lot from an occupancy tax and asked if the town and village of Tupper Lake could secure some of those funds through TAC to help develop their own plan. The two boards are currently discussing a joint contract to hire the Lake Placid-based Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, which would develop a destination and marketing plan for Tupper Lake.
"I can't make that decision, but you could definitely bring that to the committee," LaBarge said. "I think that's a fair and reasonable request, but as I said, we have a limited budget and our goal is to get the county done. There might be some resources or money available at the county level, and we could definitely take a look at that."
Contact Shaun Kittle at 891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.