Legislators Oppose Law On Bed Tax Distribution

MAYVILLE-A change made at the state level more than four months ago took a previous source of funding away from several municipalities in Chautauqua County.

On Wednesday night, legislators showed their frustration with the change.

Tom Erlandson, D-Frewsburg, presented the legislature with a handout, mapping out districts within the county that are no longer available for portions of 2 percent funding from the county’s 5 percent occupancy tax.

“More Chautauqua County waterways than just the Conewango will now be ineligible,” Erlandson said, although it was already decided back in July that the Conewango watershed was ineligible for $25,000 of the 2 percent occupancy tax.

He noted that 44 percent of the county’s waterways are no longer eligible due to representatives changing guidelines for allocation of the county’s tax monies formerly available for all county waterways.

The change, which took place in the previous legislative session, required that money be available only for county lakes or streams leading to or from those lakes.

“The original purpose of the bed tax was to fund economic development efforts aimed at building the tourism trade,” Assemblyman Andy Goodell said. “Senator Young and I introduced the legislation and amended it to make it clear that the focus of the bed tax funding was to promote projects related to our tourism industry, to help promote our county and help build jobs.”

Erlandson pointed out that although Jamestown’s hotels and motels bring occupancy tax money to the county, the city is ineligible for the 2 percent portion because it is in the Chadakoin watershed. Also, French Creek, the location of Peek’n Peak, is also now ineligible.

“The Peak is not only a major four-season destination for many visitors, it is among the top collectors of occupancy tax,” Erlandson said. “While the occupancy tax is collected countywide, because of decisions made in Albany and imposed upon us, government officials representing 44 percent of our county are no longer eligible to apply for the 2 percent occupancy money designated for county waterways.”

“I support their projects, but this fund is an economic development fund, not a general watershed fund,” Goodell said, adding that Peek’n Peak is fully eligible for the other 3 percent of the county’s 5 percent occupancy tax which is used to market and advertise tourism attractions throughout the county to fund special events and attract tourists. “The 2 percent was intended originally to enhance the quality of the lakes in Chautauqua County, recognizing that the lakes are one of the top draws for our tourism industry,” he said.

Projects that were being funded with some of the 2 percent of the bed tax were projects such as stream bank stabilization and rebuilding road side ditches to reduce erosion.

“If you siphon funds away from the bed tax and away from the tourism industry, there’s less funds available to ensure that our tourism industry thrives and grows which means you have even less bed tax revenue,” Goodell said. “There is a clear rational, and that rational is the purpose of the bed tax funding was to build on and expand our tourism industry to create more jobs in Chautauqua County and more investment.”

Even though the Conewango watershed is ineligible for the $25,000 portion of the 2 percent occupancy tax, 11 legislators voted in favor of allocating the funds for dam engineering inspections in that watershed. Those legislators included Lori Cornell, D-Jamestown; Paula DeJoy, D-Jamestown; Tom Erlandson, D-Frewsburg; Shaun Heenan, D-Dunkirk; Timothy Hoyer, D-Jamestown; Charles Nazzaro, D-Jamestown; Rod Rogers, G-Forestville; PJ Wendel, R-Lakewood; Bob Whitney, D-Jamestown; and Jay Gould, R-Ashville.

As for the $25,000, it will stay in reserves until it is designated for other purposes. The Chautauqua County Legislature earmarked the money in October’s budget drafting for 2014 waterway projects.

Those who voted in favor of keeping the resolution as filed were Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk; Larry Barmore, R-Gerry; Bill Coughlin, D-Fredonia; Fred Croscut, R-Sherman; Bob Duff, R-Sheridan; John Hemmer, R-Westfield; David Himelein, R-Findley Lake; Vince Horrigan, R-Bemus Point; John Runkle, R-Stockton; Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia; and Mark Tarbrake, R-Ellicott.

Those absent from Wednesday’s legislature meeting were George Borrello, R-Irving; Bob Stewart, R-Ellington; Victoria James, D-Jamestown; and Tom DeJoe, D-Brocton.