Amid claims of misinformation about its purpose and impacts, a proposed law intended to ensure that hotel bed taxes are collected for short-term rentals in Ulster County offered through sites such as Airbnb was shelved by its sponsors at the August 18 county legislature meeting. County executive Pat Ryan wants to negotiate an agreement with Airbnb specifically to recoup uncollected tax dollars. A report earlier this year by comptroller March Gallagher concluded that the county was missing out on a sizable amount of tax dollars because not all Airbnb properties were registered.
The law would have directed county officials “to enter into a voluntary collection agreement with all hosting companies that provide such agreement, which designates the hosting company as solely responsible and liable for collecting and remitting the applicable tax.” With such an agreement in place, Airbnb and not the county government would be legally responsible for collecting the bed tax.
The Ulster County Lodging Coalition and the Ulster County Supervisors and Mayors Association expressed their opposition during the public comment at the meeting.
Tamara Murray of the lodging association told legislators that the existing law just needed enforcement to be effective and to create “a level playing field.” Mike Baden of Rochester, speaking for the supervisors and mayors, called it duplicative. Would not such agreements supersede local control over safety inspections and regulation?
In withdrawing the resolution, sponsoring legislator Eve Walter of New Paltz said that the allegations that a bad contract could be forced upon the county and that the law would create a new tax rather than ensure collection of an existing one were based on unfounded assumptions. She added that Ryan was in the process of negotiating an agreement with Airbnb. The law would have required a signed contract, she said, and Ryan was within his authority to pursue such a deal.
As there was no longer a motion on the floor, chairman David Donaldson was at first unwilling to allow response from other legislators. He acceded amid growing hostility expressed by some of his colleagues.
Minority leader Ken Ronk said that Walter was sharing opinion as if it were fact. “Just because you believe in it, doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do.”
John Parete railed against Walter, saying that he was appalled about “accusations that we’re all stupid or misinformed.” He observed that the when the bed tax was first passed in 1991, “we didn’t have a public hearing.”
When he was finally recognized, Dean Fabiano said, “Thank you for letting me ask a goddamned question.”
That question was whether an agreement negotiated by the county executive would have to be approved by legislators; Donaldson told him that it would.
Dan Torres, the county executive’s assistant deputy, confirmed that a contract was being worked out with Airbnb. Its details were not available as of Monday.