Don’t raise occupancy tax; make short-term rentals pay sales tax instead

To the editor:

To the board of Essex County supervisors:

I am responding to a recent article in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, which stated the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism (James McKenna) is requesting a 2 percent rate hike to the current 3 percent occupancy tax. I do not understand why our supervisors would want to put a further burden on the customers of our area. If some kind of tax would be raised by the supervisors, why would they give these funds to a private corporation for community development and beautification? Are our town supervisors unable to wisely spend any taxes collected to help their own communities?

ROOST is a private corporation that already receives millions of dollars to promote this area. When it lobbied the Essex County supervisors for the 3 percent occupancy tax, it had promised that the area would see a 10 percent increase in occupancy over the next few years. The lodging community and its guests have been paying this tax for almost 20 years, and we still have not seen this increase in occupancy.

I am strongly opposed to raising more taxes on our lodging customers. If there is a shortfall of funds in which to address community needs, the supervisors should look at collecting the current 8 percent sales tax, 4 percent which comes back to the county, from lodging properties that are currently not paying the sales tax.

Vacation rental owners have come out strongly telling everyone that they are in the lodging business. They are short-term transient rentals (less than 30 days). According to what the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance told me over the phone, they should be collecting and paying the 8 percent sales tax. Why aren’t our local towns, Essex County and New York state enforcing the current law? Is it the same reason that for over 15 years they didn’t enforce our land-use code, which does NOT permit commercial business in our residentially zoned areas without a variance?

Now, Jim McKenna is asking for the county to raise the occupancy tax, which has been collected by legal businesses since the law’s inception. The vacation rental properties have only recently been forced to pay the occupancy tax. In fact, there are many that are still not paying this tax.

In my opinion, our county should enforce the laws that are already on the books before you put your hand out for more money from people who are already burdened trying to do business in New York state. When you are finally able to collect these monies, distribute it to the local towns, earmarking it for special projects each community may need. These newfound monies should go to people we have elected, not a private corporation that is not accountable to the voters.

Denise Dramm

Lake Placid