James Eisel

Eisel

DELHI — Convinced that Delaware County needs more resources to promote itself to tourists, an overwhelming majority of the Board of Supervisors came out Wednesday in favor of imposing a two percent bed tax that would be collected from guests at inns, motels and bed-and-breakfast sites.

Fourteen of the 18 town supervisors present voted in support of the measure, which was opposed by some businesses when the same issue was debated last year.

To become law, the tax would need to be introduced as a bill at the state Capitol and garner the support of the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Bovina Supervisor Tina Molé, an aide to Sen. John Bonacic, predicted the resolution would get bottled up in a legislative committee, because of opposition to new taxes by Senate Republicans. She was one of the four who opposed the bed tax.

But supporters said they were optimistic of its chances in Albany.

"This should be a home rule, local decision," said the board's chairman, James Eisel Sr., the Harpersfield supervisor. If we want it, we should be able to have it."

Eisel said he hopes the request lands in Albany quickly so that state lawmakers will have time to consider it in their post-budget session before breaking for the summer.

Also advocating for the measure was Middletown Supervisor Marjorie Miller, representing a town in the southeast corner of the county that would likely benefit from any new influx of tourists from the New York City region.

"The future of the eastern end of this county is tourism," said Miller. "We are not suffering from too many people coming into the Delaware County part of the Catskills. We're suffering from having too few coming to Delaware County."

She said counties that channel bed tax revenue into tourism promotion have seen an extraordinary return on their investment, with the businesses required to collect the tax from tourists often benefiting the most.

The vote in favor of the bed tax came after Glenn Nealis, the Delaware County economic developer, advised the board that a dedicated funding stream is "critical" in order to promote and develop the county's tourism industry.

Without the bed tax, the $95,000 now going annually for tourism promotion in Delaware County comes from local taxpayers, Nealis noted. But nearly all of the bed tax revenue would come from people living outside Delaware County, he noted.

All other counties in the Catskills area do have a bed tax, Nealis said, and are spending $800,000 to $950,000 annually on tourism promotion.

Nealis estimated that, if Albany gives the county the green light for the bed tax, the county would be able to triple its marketing efforts on behalf of tourism.

Among those voting against the bed tax resolution was Davenport Supervisor Dennis Valente, who noted the pitch for the measure came after a separate request that the board back the efforts by the Catskill Center, a nonprofit group, to get more state resources to entice hikers and other tourists to the Catskills.

"What is it we're trying to advertise here?" Valente said in an interview. "We don't have the parking spaces. We don't have the trails. The other thing is that I'm not a big believer in the notion that you can tax your way to prosperity."

In addition to Molé and Valente, Deposit Supervisor Thomas Axtell and Colchester Supervisor Arthur Merrill voted against the tax. Roxbury Supervisor Thomas Hynes was absent from the meeting.

The bed tax, also known as a hotel occupancy tax, is collected from guests who stay at hotels, motels, inns, bed and breakfast establishments, ski lodges, rented bungalows and private campgrounds. Officials said the tax would not apply to those staying at state-owned campgrounds.

Because the county is sending a home-rule message, a spokesman for state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, said the senator will sponsor the Delaware County bed tax request in Albany but is taking no immediate position on the merits of the legislation.

In Otsego County, the debate over the bed tax has not been about whether to collect it, but how to divvy it up. Last year, Otsego County, paced by Cooperstown's stature as a popular tourist destination, raked in $1.54 million from its bed tax. Several county officials are now advocating a plan that would return some of that cash to local municipalities.

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