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Essex County occupancy tax collections up

(Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the occupancy tax this year up to June was nearly 23% than the same period in 2018; it actually rose 4.5% in the year-to-date period ending in July, not June.)

Essex County’s occupancy tax revenue continues to climb, a sign that tourists are continuing to flock to the Adirondacks in greater numbers.

The county collects a 3% occupancy tax, also called a “bed tax,” every time a person stays in a hotel or motel room here. The tax has also been imposed on every short-term vacation rental stay for the last three and a half years.

As of July, the latest numbers that were available, the county had collected more than $1.1 million in occupancy tax revenue, according to the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, which keeps most of the revenue. That’s 4.5% more than the county had collected by the same time last year, according to a report from the county treasurer’s office.

Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Shaun Gillilland says that’s good news.

He said the county has been receiving more registrations from new properties, broadening the pool of rentals from which the county collects the tax. Part of that is because the county invested in a research tool last year that allows them to track new rental listings posted online and contact those who haven’t registered yet.

The short-term vacation rental market continues to grow in Essex County — particularly in the village of Lake Placid, where there are at least 706 active rentals, according to Airdna, a platform that aggregates online vacation rental data from Airbnb and HomeAway. At this time three years ago, the village had just 176. In neighboring Wilmington, there are currently at least 117, and in Keene, 56.

Beyond that growth, Gillilland said there just seems to be more business coming to Essex County this year.

“I think there’s more people coming to the area,” he said. “We’ve had a lot more tourists.”

Occupancy tax changes still being discussed

Currently, revenue generated through the county’s occupancy tax is split. Nearly all of it, 95%, gets shuttled to ROOST, a Lake Placid-based not-for-profit organization that does marketing and some data collection on behalf of the county. The county retains 5% of the revenue for administrative purposes.

This is a similar formula to other neighboring counties. In Franklin County, the county keeps 10% for administration and the rest is given to ROOST for marketing. In Clinton County, it’s more complicated. The first $440,000 in revenue the county collects is split between the North Country Chamber of Commerce, who gets 95% of that amount, and the county, which retains 5%. The chamber keeps 85% of any revenue collected beyond that, and the county retains 15%, which they put into a special fund to incentivize airlines to establish service at Plattsburgh International Airport.

In February, ROOST proposed a revised formula for the division of Essex County’s occupancy tax revenue. Under the office’s plan, new revenue from a 2% increase in the tax would go into to a Community Enhancement Fund for town-level quality of life projects.

That isn’t a done deal, however.

The state legislature authorized the county to raise its occupancy tax from 3 to 5% in June, the last day of this year’s legislative session. But that bill — sponsored by Assemblyman Dan Stec and Sen. Betty Little, both Republicans from Queensbury — has not yet been delivered to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign.

The bill may be delivered to the governor within the next month, according to ROOST.

If it is signed by the governor, the county Board of Supervisors would then have to decide whether to amend the county’s occupancy tax law. Supervisors would also have to decide what they’d like to do with the new revenue.

“That’s going to be open to some debate,” said Gillilland. “I think everybody has got a pretty good idea of the direction we’re going to go with it.”

Gillilland said that direction will likely involve some sort of change to the current formula, and a compromise with ROOST, but with more allocation of funds for tourism development in various towns.