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Yates nets more than projected from occupancy tax

PENN YAN—Yates County taxpayers got a bit of good news in the $285,967 in new revenue to the county in 2008 as a result of the new four percent occupancy tax, an amount higher than the $125,000 anticipated for the year. County administrator Sarah Purdy said, “It’s one of the reasons we didn’t have a property tax increase.”
There was one dark note in the final tally: $69,429 had to be spent defending the county against a lawsuit brought in March 2008 by the YatesOUCHtax group which called the law unconstitutional. The lawsuit was won by the county and Judge Dennis Bender ordered the plaintiffs to pay court costs of $599.
During a meeting of the legislature’s occupancy tax committee March 3, chairperson Taylor Fitch reviewed the purpose of the committee, which is to help the county treasurer implement the occupancy tax. He said one of the big worries when the tax was adopted, especially in the first year, was the cost of administration of the tax. Fitch said, “Much to the credit of Bonnie Percy and her staff, that came in at $12,906.”
The breakdown of revenue from the three components of the lodging sector was $148,826 from hotels/motels, $41,626 from bed & breakfast facilities and $95,514 from private property owners, including those who use rental agencies. Representatives of the three components of the lodging sector were invited to join the committee. However, rental groups decided not to participate, according to Fitch.
After expenses, half of the funds generated were to be devoted to tourism related activities and organizations, including $57,238 to Yates County Chamber of Commerce, $11,560 to Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance and $38,625 to Finger Lakes Wine Country Tourism Marketing. The other half was to go into the county’s general fund.
Fitch said one reason the county did the tax was for tourism promotion, adding, “Yates County spends the least on tourism of any other county and is most dependent on it. In the past the money always came from the taxpayer.”
Some changes were put in place during the first year of the law including raising the collection from three percent per quarter or $30 to five percent or $50. This is the amount the business may deduct to cover their expenses connected to collecting the tax. Fitch said Yates is one of the few counties that allows any money for collection. Reporting forms have also been updated. There had been complaints early in the year about the complexity of the forms. However, bed and breakfast representative Susan Baron said, “As a user of your forms I don’t know how you could get them much simpler. It takes just a couple of minutes.” Although compliance is “pretty good,” according to Fitch, the county is looking for more compliance from the rental groups.
Legislator Donna Alexander asked Baron and The Inn at Glenora owner Gene Pierce if they had received comments about the tax from their guests. Pierce said, “Not even one percent.” Baron added, “It created a lot of breakfast conversation. Some guests saw the signs protesting the tax and 100 percent thought it was ridiculous. Many said other places had seven percent tax.”
Alexander commented, “I appreciate the positiveness of this meeting. I hope we are doing a service to the community.”

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