Herkimer County Bed Tax Debate

By Mary Wilson | marwilson@wutr.tv

Published 04/03 2014 06:12PM

Updated 04/03 2014 06:32PM

Herkimer County relies on tourism. But there's not always enough money to promote it. A so called "bed tax" is something many counties impose--including Oneida County. It's a tax on hotel rooms--with the revenue going toward tourism. Herkimer County doesn't have one. The debate surrounding the controversial tax is heating up. It's been going on for ten years and is nowhere closer to being resolved. Those against the bed tax say it will keep tourists away, and those for it, say the revenue will bring in more.
The Barstow House in West Winfield was built in the 1800s. It's now a quaint bed and breakfast.
"People think bed and breakfast work is very glamorous but it's a lot of hard work and its wanting to welcome people into your area," said Maureen Christensen.
Welcoming visitors is what Maureen does best--and adding a tax to her rates will hinder that, she says.
"That means our prices are going to have to be higher and it's less and less likely that people are going to choose West Winfield, it's going to cut into our prices and we're probably going to have to raise them," she said.
But the Herkimer County Chamber of Commerce has other ideas.
"The feeling is, is that the more dollars we can use to promote tourism, the more people will come in to spend money," said Executive Director John Scarano.
And Maureen agrees there's plenty in Herkimer County to promote. Though she says the tax could deter potential customers, she says there's always more that could be done to attract tourism to Herkimer County.
"Anything they could do to help us draw people to this area would be a big help," she said.
With the added tax revenue, the Chamber of Commerce could do more to get people interested in the area.
"Those are going to be dollars that will hopefully be well used to promote the area, TV coverage, brochures, travel guides, phone apps," said Scarano.
He says the next step is to do a study on how much revenue the tax could bring in and at what rate. Regardless of what happens, Maureen will keep the doors of Barstow House open for visitors.
"You're the cook, you clean the toilets, you make the bed, you know you welcome the people, you help them find places to go and you only do it because you like it," said Maureen. 
Oneida County has a two-percent bed tax and generates around 800-thousand-dollars each year--with most of that money going toward tourism.

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