The Ulster County Legislature last week cleared the path to potentially double the county’s occupancy tax from 2 percent to 4 percent, approving a home rule request to the state. The measure passed 15-5, with Democrat Kathy Nolan (Towns of Denning, Hardenburgh, Olive and Shandaken) joining the four Republicans present in opposition. Minority Leader Ken Ronk (Shawangunk), Gina Hansut (Towns of Lloyd and Marlborough) and Herbert Litts (Towns of Lloyd and Plattekill) were not in attendance.
The occupancy tax increase would affect all hotel, motel and short-term rentals in the county, the latter including those listed on websites like AirBnb. The proposal drew heat from some members of the public, particularly those who said the local hotel industry is still feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which began three years ago this month.
“The hospitality industry found itself on its butt over the pandemic, said Raleigh Green, a member of Ulster Strong, an advocacy group that supports sustainable business opportunities in the county. “This is not the time to be taxing that very vulnerable industry.”
Steve Turk, owner of Rocking Horse Ranch in Highland, agreed.
“This top-line-only tax unequivocally disrupts our ability to stay competitive in the family destination travel market,” said Turk.
The resolution’s sponsor, Joseph Maloney (D-Saugerties), said he didn’t believe increasing the occupancy tax to 4 percent would hurt the local hospitality industry.
“I don’t think it deters anyone from staying around here,” Maloney said. “And if it does deter someone from staying in an AirBnb, good; it’ll get turned back into a rental.”
Supporters of the proposal said a 4 percent occupancy tax was modest compared to other communities, pointing out that the State of Pennsylvania has a 7 percent occupancy tax. More locally, the City of Newburgh’s occupancy tax will be set at 5 percent starting on Saturday, April 1.
An occupancy tax increase is not guaranteed in Ulster County. If the New York State Legislature approves the request, it would then come back to the County Legislature for a vote on the increase.