Legislature rejects higher occupancy tax

OBSERVER Photo by Gregory Bacon Peter Weimer, owner of We Wan Chu Cottages in Mayville, was one of many cottage and hotel owners who opposed Chautauqua County increasing the occupancy tax.

MAYVILLE – The Chautauqua County Legislature has reversed course and decided not to seek an increase in the tax paid by visitors who rent lodging in the county.

Last week, county lawmakers were asked by County Executive PJ Wendel to increase the occupancy tax from 5% to 8%. The proposal was backed by two committees and appeared to be on its way to get final approval from the county.

Even if the county passed the increase, the New York State Legislature would have needed to give final approval. The state has already given the county permission to raise the occupancy tax from 3% to 5%, something done several years ago.

During Wednesday’s county legislature meeting, Legislator Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia, recommended to not increase the occupancy tax to 8% and instead keep it at 5%. Part of his reason, he explained, was he didn’t want to see the state reject the increase and then see the county lose even more. “At the 5% we’re already asking for extra from the state, so I would hate to jeopardize what we have at the 5% by asking for 8,” he said.

Legislator Susan Parker, D-Fredonia, was the only legislator who voted against the increase in committee meetings last week. She applauded Scudder for recommending the 5% instead of going to 8%. “The proposal was nine days ago and it did not include facts pertaining to the need for a 3% (occupancy) tax increase, which would have given Chautauqua County the highest occupancy tax in New York state,” she said.

Legislator Tom Nelson, D-Jamestown, agreed. “I understand the importance of increasing tourism to the county to support Chautauqua Lake and our waterways, but I had some serious concerns about this additional tax. I know that in most cases, the tax is paid by people visiting our county and not our residents, but I think Mr. Patel said it well when he said in his letter that this tax will not go unnoticed by hotel guests,” he said, referring to Praven Patel, owner of Best Western and Quality Inn, in Dunkirk.

Patel was at the meeting as was a number of other hotel owners who expressed opposition to the proposed increase.

Peter Weimer with We Wan Chu Cottages in Mayville, was among those who spoke out. “When the town of Chautauqua raised our assessed value to 100% back in 2022, my taxes went from just under $16,000 to $40 short of $30,000. I feel that I pay into my fair share,” he said.

Rosemary Stage, the president and owner of the Maple Springs Lake Side Inn in Bemus Point, criticized Wendel for proposing the increase. “We pay some of the highest taxes in the country when we add up sales tax, bed tax, utility taxes, sewer taxes, and a host of other fees. Almost 50% of my gross income is attributed to taxes, an amount unheard of in the hospitality industry,” she said.

When the time came to vote, all 14 legislators present voted in favor of keeping the occupancy tax rate at 5% and not seeking to raise it to 8%. Absent legislators included Robert Bankoski, D-Dunkirk; Tom Harmon, R-Silver Creek; John Hemmer, R-Westfield; Kevin Muldowney, R-Dunkirk; and Elisabeth Rankin, R-Jamestown.

After the meeting, Wendel appeared disappointed but said he understood why the legislature voted the way it did. “The concern that was brought to me before the meeting was that if we didn’t get the 8%, would we go back to just 3% and possibly lose the (additional) 2% we’re getting. So there was some questions with that,” he said.

While Parker and others said they wanted more time to discuss the proposal, Wendel said there wasn’t the time. He said the county legislature needed to act now in order for the state to review the proposal before June. “Even if it was passed tonight, it wouldn’t go into effect until next year,” he added.

Wendel said with this decision it’s “back to the drawing board” on how to fund improving Chautauqua Lake with its ongoing weed problem. “I haven’t heard anyone say if our occupancy tax is higher we’re not coming back, but they have said if the lake doesn’t get better we’re aren’t coming,” he said.


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