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Jefferson County Board of Legislators schedule occupancy tax discussions for early 2013

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Ordinarily, the last meeting of the year for the Jefferson County Board of Legislators is about presenting awards, wrapping up some routine business, and adjourning to a local watering hole for some holiday libations — normally Tom and Jerrys at the Crystal restaurant.

This year, however, a discussion about how to spend the additional $110,000 a year generated in bed-tax revenue since 2009 delayed the festivities a bit.

As the meeting was coming to a close, Philip N. Reed, who represents the towns of Alexandria, Orleans and LeRay, brought up the issue, which has been on the minds of some legislators and local hoteliers lately due to the growth of accommodations in the area.

Watertown alone has added 670 rooms since 2005, and with that increase has come a significant increase in bed-tax receipts. Discussions about the matter were scheduled for early 2013.

Mr. Reed advocated having a conversation about the issue sooner rather than later, arguing that an economic downturn presents an opportune moment to spend money on advertising. Hoping to catch families who plan their summer vacations during the winter months, Mr. Reed pushed to have a policy to “let everyone know what a treasure we have here” before they decide to spend their money elsewhere.

Legislators Michael J. Docteur, R-Cape Vincent; John D. Peck, R-Great Bend; and Barry M. Ormsby, R-Belleville; also weighed in on the issue, each concurring with the others and adding his own piece as well.

Mr. Peck inquired as to whether there was a mechanism to allow local tourism generating organizations to apply for advertising dollars.

While he agreed in principle with the inquiry into the bed- tax issue, Mr. Ormsby cautioned that “you can get rid of a lot of money in a hurry” without a fairly well-defined system in place.

Scott A. Gray, chairman of the Finance and Rules Committee, said the Legislature should avoid the institutionalization of costs that would result from putting a permanent spending program in place.

The occupancy-tax fund has not always been so flush, and some legislators are worried that being too ambitious could compromise the solvency that recent gains have brought.

County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann III and Board of Legislators Chairwoman Carolyn D. Fitzpatrick brought the conversation back to a seasonally appropriate level of fervor, eventually securing two motions for adjournment.

With the yuletide mood restored, holiday traditions resumed apace.

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