MAYVILLE - The county finance department is hoping to educate and encourage those renting out in Chautauqua County to register, collect and remit their occupancy tax.
Those who fail to comply could be forced to pay back taxes, penalties and interest.
Susan Marsh, county finance director, said she suspects many cottage and rental owners - many centered along Lake Erie - are not collecting the county's 5 percent occupancy tax.
Portions of those collections, which totaled $1.2 million last year and are broken down into two tax groups, are used to promote tourism (3 percent) and local waterways (2 percent). Marsh said many rental owners may be unaware of the tax since many are exempt from the sales tax.
"We're going to start enforcing the law," she said, noting a 2004 resolution in the legislature that eliminated all exceptions to the tax. "We're trying to put letters out there just to let people know."
Marsh said many hotels and motels, which also pay sales tax, are compliant with the occupancy tax law. However, she said, it's summer cottage rental owners who are missing their payments.
"I can look online and find a dozen cottages," she said. "I can look them up and know they're not collecting any taxes. I don't see anybody on the north side registered."
According to county law, any occupancy of a room or dwelling under 29 days is subject to the tax. Property owners are required to register prior to collecting the tax through the county's finance department at www.co.chautauqua.ny.us/departments/finance.
Renters required to collect the tax include: hotels, motels, cottages, condominiums, apartments or other properties kept for lodging.
Mark Deas, legislature financial analyst, said an educational seminar in the northern part of the county may bolster lagging registration numbers.
"We researched certain areas and we found a lot of cottage owners on Chautauqua Lake near Chautauqua Institution were owned by Ohio residents," Deas said. "After they closed down, they would go home and be unaware of the tax.
"We were able to do our research and make contact with them. We then had a public meeting to educate the citizens. ... I'm thinking we could have another meeting for the north."
The collection issue was brought up during a recent Audit and Control Committee meeting. Marsh said the income from rental owners who are not paying would be approximately $25,000 a year, and said while it "isn't a lot of money," all owners need to comply with the law.
"Those who don't comply after this push," Marsh said, "we will go back and look (to see if they were paying taxes). If they don't comply then, we will go back three years."
"It comes down to educating the owners," Deas added.
A portion of the county's 2 percent occupancy tax was appropriated in April to the Chautauqua Lake Association for weed harvesting and beach cleanup efforts.
On Wednesday, the legislature will vote whether or not to allocate the remaining portion of the fund, $30,000, to the CLA for additional harvesting. The lake association must provide a match to receive the emergency funding.