Bed time

We have met the enemy and he is us: Pogo

The people who operate Ulster County’s numerous vacation destinations may have thought the emerging coronavirus was their worst threat, but it might have been here all along. Did somebody say county government?

Somebody just did.

County government is proposing a two percent increase in the so-called “bed tax” (now at two percent) to produce an estimated $2 million in additional revenue. The windfall, which probably wouldn’t begin to roll in until next year, given the need for state approval, would be used to support existing county programs and perhaps a brainstorm or two. The need to prop up the budget comes less than three months after the county’s $342 million operating budget was unanimously approved by the legislature. Cash flow problems? Maybe.

It would appear that this proposal, already in resolution form for consideration by the legislature, was put together without much input from the businesspeople who would be most directly impacted.

Twixt and between got together at the monthly Democratic majority caucus in the county office building this week. The exchange was polite, pointed but edgy. These two groups are worlds apart, maybe not even on the same planet.

Example: “I travel a lot now that I’m retired and I never look at the tax,” said legislature chairman Dave Donaldson.

“You should sit at our switchboard someday,” responded a resort owner. “Consumers are very conscious of the bottom line. Sometimes it sounds like we’re playing Let’s Make a Deal.”

Here we visit the barnyard. The difference between ham and eggs? For the chicken, it is an inconvenience, for the pig, a real sacrifice. Thus, two percent on top of two percent for legislators looks like chump change. To people running resorts on a tight rope, it could be the difference between staying in business and locking the doors.

Lodge operators say every nickel (or penny) counts in what is a highly competitive business.

Comparing tax rates in competing counties (or states) is more about apples and oranges, with both sides plucking hanging fruit. Dutchess County charges four percent, for instance, while Greene levies just one percent.

Ways and Means Committee chairperson Lynn Archer’s mollifying, “This is just the beginning, it still needs state approval” landed like a hand grenade among a flock of pigeons. “Why even start?” was the sharp response from several in attendance.

Manna Jo Greene might have given a clue to the next chapter in this evolving story. With the hospitality business hard-hit corona, she suggested tabling the resolution until that particular crisis passes. One could almost feel cold toes wiggling among legislators sitting around the table.

Here’s my two cents (two percent?) for what it’s worth:  Take a closer look at the Greene County model. They charge just one percent and dedicate 90 percent of collections to tourism, thus generating more tourism and more taxes.

Saddling a struggling sector of the economy with another burdensome tax is nobody’s idea of economic development.