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St. Lawrence County rethinking bed tax collection

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County may change how it monitors its bed tax receipts, possibly using the county Chamber of Commerce to help with how much money is collected.

Last year, the county collected $369,000 in bed taxes, but this year’s figures may end up lower. County Treasurer Kevin M. Felt recently reported to legislators that receipts for the first three quarters of 2013 were $29,000 lower than during the same period last year.

“We’ve had others come in and tell us what a great year it’s been. Do we really know what we’re collecting?” said Legislator Vernon D. “Sam” Burns, D-Ogdensburg. “I’m not quite sure we’re doing the job we should to collect the bed tax.”

The county requires those who rent beds — such as motels, hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and homeowners — to register with the treasurer’s office and turn in, on the honor system, the tax collected.

“There’s no teeth,” Mr. Felt said.

While legislators do not believe that businesses are collecting the money and keeping it, some wonder whether the tax is being remembered, or if new establishments know to collect the tax.

County legislators talked last year about ways to increase bed tax revenue, but decided to hold off until they saw what happened with an increase in the sales tax. While they have no plans to raise the percentage of the bed tax, legislators would like to boost the amount the county receives.

After initial talks with county officials several years ago, the chamber informally expressed willingness to have a more active role in collecting the bed tax, as it is more familiar with those that rent rooms than the county is, Executive Director Patricia L. McKeown said.

The county annually gives the chamber approximately $200,000 to promote tourism. If the chamber were more involved with monitoring the bed tax, it could take its allocation from the collection of that money. The county and the chamber could discuss an equitable split above that amount, Ms. McKeown said.

“It would be a chance for us to make extra money and extra money for the county,” Ms. McKeown said.

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