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Jefferson County to spend $500,000 to promote tourism in 2014

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Jefferson County will spend nearly $500,000 on tourism promotion in 2014.

The money comes from bed tax — a fee assessed on visitors staying overnight in the county. By law, the money must be spent to attract visitors to the area.

The county has enjoyed a bit of a windfall over the past seven years, as hotels have sprouted up along major thoroughfares in the city of Watertown.

But the additional revenue has upset a delicate ecosystem.

Traditionally, most of the occupancy tax revenue was generated along the St. Lawrence River. Now, however, most of the money comes from the city.

The bulk of the money is given to the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council. A much smaller portion is given to the Disabled Persons Action Organization.

Next year, the county is slated to transfer $494,000 to the council and $4,300 to the DPAO. But some legislators, including Finance and Rules Committee Chairman Scott A. Gray, R-Watertown, would like to see a re-examination of how the revenue is apportioned.

“It’s going to the T.I. Council right now. That’s not the end-all be-all for where that money should go,” Mr. Gray said.

According to Mr. Gray, a large portion of the revenue is generated by taxes collected from customers who come to the area for Fort Drum.

The county should protect its interest there, Mr. Gray said.

The county has made forays into spreading the wealth around.

At the end of 2012, the county had $591,987 in a reserve fund replenished by bed tax revenue.

This year, Jefferson County legislators voted to spend $150,000 of that fund balance to promote the Jefferson County Wine Trail, obtain high-definition video and photography of county tourism highlights, promote county fishing resources, promote county historical sites and market the Watertown International Airport to Canadian travelers.

According to General Services Committee Chairman Philip N. Reed, R-Fishers Landing, the expenditures are an attempt to market the county as a whole.

“It’s not really pitting one group against another; it’s about getting the word out there about Jefferson County,” Mr. Reed said.

Mr. Reed, who represents a river district, said he would like to see some of the county’s other attributes, including newly rehabilitated portions of its trail system, highlighted along with river and lake attractions.

But, Mr. Reed noted, the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council has a proven track record when it comes to marketing the county and likely will remain the county’s agency of choice.

Jefferson County receives 49 percent of the bed tax revenue, the city of Watertown and towns throughout the county receive 49 percent of the revenue generated by hotels within their limits and 2 percent goes to administrative fees.

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