LOWVILLE — The Lewis County Board of Legislators has agreed to schedule a public hearing next month on a proposed “bed tax” extension that would cover all short-term rentals, including private homes, cottages, cabins and RVs.
The resolution to set a public hearing at 5 p.m. Nov. 5 for the bed tax law passed in a 9-1 vote, but with debate.
District 1 Legislator John Lehman voted against the measure moving forward, as he did in the committee meeting held on Sept. 17.
“I’m totally against it. There’s no way to enforce it. It’s just another added tax,” Mr. Lehman said during the meeting, “Make all of the excuses you want, it’s a new tax.”
Mr. Lehman also said that property owners commenting on Facebook are against the tax. But District 8 Legislator and Board Chairman Lawrence Dolhof said the comments he has been getting came from hotel, motel and bed-and-breakfast owners who feel that their businesses have been undercut by a double standard in the bed tax written in 2004.
Mr. Dolhof told the board the changes to the law make it more current, addressing the impact of online services like Airbnb and Vacation Rentals by Owner, who are “draining off the hotels and motels that have to pay the tax.”
Mr. Lehman, however, said he feels he needs to represent the interests of his constituents, not just hotels and motels, and that the comments he has been getting and reading on Facebook from property owners indicate they are against the bed tax changes.
He also said he doesn’t believe motels and hotels are losing business because of private property owners renting out their homes, although he acknowledged after the meeting that he has not spoken to any hotel or motel owners directly.
“I’m not in favor of a new tax either, but I see both sides. It just seems like every time we turn around there, somebody’s putting a new tax on us whether it’s the state or — now it’s us, the county,” District 7 Legislator Gregory Kulzer said.
“You’re taxing the people that are using it,” said District 4 Legislator Bryan Moser, “The homeowner isn’t going to pay that tax.”
County Manager Ryan Piche told the board the law primarily targets rental properties marketed and rented through online interfaces like Airbnb and VRBO, but it also applies to people marketing and renting their properties in other ways, from word of mouth to Facebook pages or other traditional approaches.
If the law passes, renters booking and paying for short term rental properties in the county through the online platforms will see the occupancy tax added directly to their bills along with their nightly room charge and other fees, with no extra effort from property owners because of an agreement the county can make with Airbnb and VRBO.
People renting their properties independently will be expected to register with the county treasurer’s office, keep records of their rentals and send in quarterly tax returns and payments to the treasurer.
Mr. Kulzer asked if someone renting their cottage to snowmobilers for three months would be expected to collect the occupancy tax, however, County Attorney Joan McNichol said the tax won’t impact any lease for 30 days or more by the same renter because it isn’t considered a short-term rental.
The public hearing will take place at the beginning of the November Board of Legislators meeting in the Lewis County Courthouse, 7660 N. State St.