Auerbach renews push to broaden bed tax
The Ulster County comptroller again is calling for the county to start levying the county’s bed tax on rentals booked through Airbnb and similar online services, saying the county could collect more than $200,000 in revenue in the upcoming year.
County Legislature Chairman Ken Ronk, though, said he remains unconvinced the county has the legal authority to enter a deal with internet-based home-sharing sites to collect a tax from users and pass it on to the county.
Comptroller Elliott Auerbach in March first raised the prospect of cashing in on the short-term rental business by levying on those rentals the same 2 percent occupancy tax now charged to patrons of the county’s hotels, motels and bed-andbreakfast establishments. He said he struck a deal with Airbnb under which the service voluntarily agreed to collect the tax on properties rented in Ulster County through the site.
But the measure fell flat in the Legislature’s Laws, Rules and Governmental Services Committee after both legislative and county attorneys said the state law that allows the county to levy the bed tax didn’t extend to lodging booked on sites like Airbnb.
Auerbach reiterated his call to lawmakers in a memo Monday in which he “vigorously” encouraged the Legislature to “seriously consider this opportunity to maximize revenue while safeguarding and harmonizing our tourism industry, acting to regulate vacation rentals and leveling the playing field for traditional hotel operators who already pay the tax.”
He said Airbnb estimates Ulster County would collect more than $200,000 from the firm in the first year.
Auerbach said although Ulster County officials have questioned the legality of such an agreement, five counties already have entered such voluntary collection agreements with Airbnb, and numerous other counties are negotiating similar agreements.
On Tuesday, Ronk, RWallkill, said all the indications lawmakers have gotten from their legal counsel is that the county cannot accept voluntary contributions — which he said would be akin to gifts — from Airbnb and similar companies, and it cannot impose the tax on lodging offered through rental websites without a change in the law.
“So far, I haven’t had a single one of our attorneys say it’s permissible, and just because other counties are doing it doesn’t make it legal,” Ronk said.
“Before we start collecting a tax, we need to make sure we have the legal authority to, and I’ve not been convinced of that and neither have many other county legislators,” he said.
Ronk said lawmakers will take up the proposal only if the county’s legal counsel says the Legislature has the authority to impose the tax.