The Ulster County legislature approved a contract (13 to 9) with Airbnb to allow them to collect a 2 percent occupancy tax.
Democrats and Republicans were split on the resolution. Republican lawmakers said the contract could affect the county’s ability to track and inspect short-term rental properties because it would prevent the county from using third-party companies to do data mining on Airbnb listings. Democrats disputed this and emphasized the agreement would ensure Airbnb rentals paid taxes as hotels, motels and traditional bed and breakfasts have done.
At the start of the discussion, Minority Leader Kenneth Ronk suggested kicking the law back to the Ways and Means committee so that more questions could be asked regarding the contract. This was defeated 12-10, as the Democrats said it was already vetted extensively.
Ronk said the agreement endangered “our towns’ ability to do code enforcement here.” He believed that a “no” vote for the resolution would be a vote for code enforcement to do its job properly and that the money from the contract with Airbnb would not be worth it. He expressed concerns that potential illegal apartments could result in fires.
“You’re going to have our hard working firefighters, first responders and volunteers put themselves in precarious positions,” said Ronk.
“As active, local code enforcement, we do have problems with this and the communications that will cease to exist that will help us do our jobs,” said Legislator Thomas Corcoran, who is himself a code enforcement officer in the town of Marlborough. “My communication with my fellow code enforcement officers is that this is not a good thing for us … Our main goal is the protection of human life and we would be trading that.”
Supporting legislators said the agreement is a long time coming. Legislator Eve Walter, who put forth the resolution originally, stated that it is “not true that we will lose the capacity to really know where these sites are.”
She explained that this is a tax that already exists and Airbnb is “not paying their fair share.”
“The fact is Airbnb has been sharing our economy and not necessarily supporting it as the stationary hotels and motels have,” said legislator John Parete. “Now they want to help support it. I think this is long overdue. It is unfinished business in terms of the allocation of the money, but that can wait for a different day.”
A report early this year by comptroller March Gallagher found that the county was missing a “sizable amount of tax dollars because not all Airbnb properties were registered.”
The Ulster County Lodging Coalition has expressed its opposition to the contract during the August legislature meeting when a proposed law intended to ensure that hotel bed taxes are collected for short-term rentals was discussed. They believed that it wouldn’t put them on the same playing field.
Legislators Al Bruno, Dean Fabiano, Heidi Haynes, Craig Lopez, Kevin Roberts, Mary Wawro, Herbert Litts, Corcoran and Ronk voted no.