Legislature backs changes made to occupancy tax

MAYVILLE – County officials have agreed to the modifications made at the state level to the legislation of the occupancy tax, requiring more money be used for lake maintenance and cleanup.

In March, the Chautauqua County Legislature filed a request with the state to continue to have a 5% occupancy tax. Counties are permitted to have a 3% occupancy tax, but need state approval to increase that amount. The county has a 5% occupancy tax, which is collected from short term renters in Chautauqua County when they use hotels, motels or short-term rental properties, including Airbnbs and bread-and-breakfast locations.

County officials were told that in order to keep the additional 2%, a certain portion of that must go to the county’s Visitor’s Bureau and a certain portion must be used toward “activities that control, treat, and/or remove invasive or nuisance submerged aquatic vegetation, reduce harmful algae blooms, or provide shoreline clean up.”

Legislator Susan Parker, D-Fredonia, said the county should have the final say on how the occupancy tax money is spent, not the state. At Wednesday’s legislature meeting, she introduced an amended resolution that stated “the County Legislature is in the best position to determine the allocation of occupancy tax funds to manage tourism and the many lakes and waterways of Chautauqua County.” Legislator Bob Bankoski, D-Dunkirk, agreed with the change. He noted how last month the county agreed to spend $1 million for the Jefferson Project, which is looking at algal blooms in Chautauqua Lake. “If we amend the resolution, as Ms. Parker suggested, it gives the legislature some leeway to move forward with the recommendations of the Jefferson Project,” he said.

But Legislator Elisabeth Rankin, R-Jamestown, who works for Assemblyman Andy Goodell, said the state has the right to tell Chautauqua County how the money should be used. “Ever since this was first put into place with the occupancy tax by (former Democratic Assemblyman) Bill Parment, the state has had a say in how this money is spent,” she said.

Legislator Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia, was critical of the proposed change by Parker. “I feel like some of the motivation for this amendment is political theater,” he said.

Only Legislators Parker, Bankoski and Tom Nelson, D-Jamestown, voted in favor of the change. The remaining 14 legislators, all Republicans, voted against it.

After Parker’s proposed change failed, all 17 legislators voted in favor of the occupancy tax. Parker said that even though she wants to see the county have more control over the occupancy tax, she does not want to see the additional 2% go away. “We do want the 5% occupancy tax. I did, in fact, think the amendment was the right way to go. I don’t make my decisions based on political theater,” she said, referring to Scudder’s comment earlier.

After the meeting, County Executive PJ Wendel said the county does support a number of organizations with the occupancy tax, and that won’t change.

The change, he said, will be how the lakes and waterways money is spent. It has been used to support some administration, including the watershed coordinator and those who collect the funds from Airbnb and Vrbo. If the county can’t use occupancy tax for those positions, they will look elsewhere in the county budget to fund them. “You need people to administer these programs,” Wendel said.


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