Controversial bed tax proposals have been forwarded twice in the Herkimer County Legislature, yet fell short of implementation when put to votes, according to Legislator Patrick Russell of Old Forge. Yet, bed tax murmurings are again being heard among pockets of legislators.
The first inkling of renewed bed-tax activity occurred on February 21, following Legislative Chairman Vincent Bono’s state-of-the-county address at Herkimer County Community College, according to Russell.
What started as a seemingly impromptu question on the subject, immediately became a talk among legislators in attendance, and a fairly detailed plan by Bono.
This led Russell to believe that Bono, who had previously been opposed to the tax, was now among those spearheading one’s implementation.
And much to Russell’s disappointment.
Russell said he opposes the notion of “taxing, just to tax,” and sees a bed tax as an opportunity to do just that: Government taking money, simply because it’s there to take.
Russell is concerned about this mindset, he said.
A bed tax could mean another disincentive to vacationing in Herkimer County, which could harm the tourist-dependent economies, such as his district’s Town of Webb, Russell said.
These economies are more fragile than they may appear to outsiders, Russell said.
A lot of money is spent by local municipalities, organizations and individual businesses to promote tourism. It would be wrong to tax this activity for funding unrelated, even dubious expenditures elsewhere in the county.
The plan Chairman Bono has bandied is a 30/30/30/10 Plan, as Russell calls it.
“Thirty percent of the taxes collected would be directed to the Town of Webb. Thirty percent would go to the Herkimer County Chamber of Commerce. Thirty percent would go to the county’s Industrial Development Agency (IDA). And 10 percent would go to the county’s general fund,” Russell said.
But this is only one proposal, Russell added. County lawmakers could basically do whatever they wanted with the money, and at any time, he said.
This is all just talk at this point, Russell emphasizes. Nothing has been brought to the Ways and Means Committee, that he chairs, or the Planning and Development Committee.
Still, the talk has many in the local accommodations industry concerned, including Stuart deCamp, owner of Moose River House Bed & Breakfast in Thendara.
De Camp said the Old Forge and larger Fulton Chain region bases its tourist viability on the fact that it is an affordable destination, ideal for families on a budget.
And the area has been able to maintain that quality, despite a multitude of challenges, he said.
Putting an extra cost burden on these overnight families is just the wrong thing to do, according to de Camp.
“It would do damage to our local economy,” he said.
Herkimer County should rather examine its current spending, some of which is highly questionable, before putting a drag on an economic engine that’s still holding tough, according to de Camp.
A concern among deCamp and like-minded accommodation providers, is that a bed tax would be ramrodded through the legislature. They would like ample opportunity to hear and discuss any proposal, and mount a grassroots opposition, if warranted.
“I would do everything I could to oppose that,” Legislator Russell said, referring to a hasty vote stemming from insufficient debate.
Russell said he is in contact with deCamp and other accommodation providers in the area to discuss the bed-tax murmurings and their potential effects to local businesses.
He is also reaching out to Webb’s publicity director Mike Farmer, and Webb Supervisor Ted Riehle.
“The problem is some members of the legislature that were understanding of this issue are no longer serving. Twice we fought back harmful bed tax proposals. Some of these newer legislators, who are now talking favorably about bed taxes, are unfamiliar with what’s transpired in the past. They don’t have the history,” Russell said.