Auer­bach re­news push to broaden bed tax

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Pa­tri­cia Doxsey pdoxsey@free­manon­ pat­ti­at­free­man on Twit­ter

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.

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