OCCUPANCY TAX County funds need examination
The Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance has around $3 million in requests for funds for 2023 and roughly $650,000 to give.
There is absolutely, positively zero agreement on where that additional money should come from.
New York isn’t likely to write the county a check for lake and waterway maintenance every year, no matter how loud the screams that Chautauqua Lake is the state’s responsibility. Homeowners in the towns and villages surrounding Chautauqua Lake balked at the idea of paying more on their already expensive property tax bills for a taxation district to raise money for Chautauqua Lake maintenance. Now, the county’s lodging industry has spoken loudly that lake and waterway projects shouldn’t be funded with an additional 3% occupancy tax because, they say, it will hurt their bottom line. We can’t disagree with either group — taxes are high, especially when it comes to lakefront property.
Give credit to both the Chautauqua Lake Protection and Rehabilitation Agency members and county legislators. In both cases they listened to the issues raised by members of the public and acted accordingly. The decisions to not create a taxing district or to not increase occupancy taxes are difficult only because legislators understand the need for additional money for lakes and waterways, most importantly, in our opinion, Chautauqua Lake.
So where do we go now?
It’s time, in our opinion, for county officials and legislators to take a long, hard look at how the county is spending its existing 5% occupancy tax. Of that 5% tax, 3% is spent on tourism while 2% is designated for lakes and waterways. The 2023 county budget includes $1,144,261 from the 3% occupancy tax for tourism and $815,340 for the 2% occupancy tax for lakes and waterways. Chautauqua Lake receives $150,000 in direct in-lake maintenance money from that 2% while $150,000 is earmarked for watershed maintenance. Is that enough? In our opinion it is not.
Chautauqua Lake projects can receive a portion of the $233,446 in 2% bed tax money earmarked for money awarded by groups applying for it, but that money isn’t specifically earmarked for the lake. In our opinion, it’s time to rethink the entire 5% — including the money set aside for tourism. Without Chautauqua Lake the tourist economy takes a big hit, and in our opinion the bed tax budget must reflect that reality.
Chautaqua Lake has long been the golden goose that generates a quarter of the county’s property tax revenue. That bird is sick — and it’s time to figure out how we’re going to pay the doctor’s bill.