COOPERSTOWN _ On the advice of county Attorney James Konstanty, the Otsego County Board of Representatives no longer is trying to collect occupancy tax from youth baseball camps.
``I never thought the county had the authority to collect this tax from the camps,'' Konstanty said Wednesday.
The county board introduced a local law this week to amend the 4 percent occupancy tax by dropping language that includes, as taxable, the for-profit camps.
A public hearing on the issue will be held at 7:30 p.m. June 18 on the second floor of the county office building in Cooperstown, according to Laura Child, clerk of the board. The hearing is likely to be followed by a vote to reverse changes made to the law two years ago.
In June of 2006, the board voted overwhelmingly to extend its occupancy tax law to include the baseball camps. At the time, only Rep. James Powers, R-Butternuts, now board chairman, voted against the extension of the occupancy tax.
``I voted that way because I think we tax people too much,'' Powers said Thursday.
In the months before that vote, several owners of small accommodations businesses had asked the board to consider levying the tax on youths who attend the camps, said Rod Klafehn, who was county attorney in 2006.
``The people running the mom-and-pop operations had to collect the bed tax from their guests, so they couldn't understand why it wouldn't apply to a large commercial venture like the (Cooperstown) Dreams Park,'' he said.
Klafehn said he contacted state officials and was given conflicting advice on whether this extension of the bed tax would hold up in court.
``It's something that hasn't been tested, because these large, for-profit camps are a relatively new phenomenon,'' he said.
An official at the state's Office of Tax Policy and Analysis thought the provision might withstand a court challenge, but an official with the state Tax Enforcement Bureau disagreed, the former county attorney said.
``We knew it wasn't a sure thing, but we decided to go forward,'' he said.
When the county tried to collect the tax in 2007, the Dreams Park sued, saying the county did not have the authority to levy a tax on bunkhouses occupied by baseball players.
Klafehn, who was succeeded by Konstanty in January, said that he and Cooperstown lawyer Garo Gozigian, who represents the Dreams Park, submitted paperwork to state Supreme Court and were waiting for the case to be scheduled and aired.
``The work was done and we were waiting to see what a judge would say,'' he said. ``I can't understand why the board would change the law now.''
Konstanty said he has urged the board to amend the local law because it is invalid.
``Under state guidelines, the bed tax is levied on accommodations that are open to the public,'' he said. ``These bunkhouses where the kids stay when they come up to play baseball are not open to the public.''
As a result of acknowledging that the county cannot tax youth baseball camps, the lawsuit with the Cooperstown Dreams Park will be resolved, he said.
``I signed a stipulation this week,'' said Konstanty.
Gozigian declined to comment and other representatives of the Dreams Park could not be reached for comment.
The proposal to amend the county's current version of the bed tax law came from the Administration Committee. Rep. Greg Relic, committee chairman, said he believes Konstanty has correctly assessed the county's limits to tax under state law.
``He knows what he's talking about,'' said Relic.
Relic's predecessor as committee chairman, former Rep. Ronald Feldstein, D-Otego, disagreed.
``We knew there was a chance we wouldn't win in court, but I see no reason we couldn't have waited for a judge to decide this,'' he said.
If the county had prevailed, it would have collected thousands of dollars from the thriving camps, he noted.
County Treasurer Myrna Thayne said Thursday that none of the county's youth baseball camps had paid the tax, so no money needs to be returned to them from the county's coffers.