LOWVILLE — After Lewis County residents spoke about the extension of the existing occupancy tax to include private short-term rentals, the Board of Legislators passed the “bed tax” initiative during Tuesday night’s meeting.
None of the bed-and-breakfast and cabin owners who spoke, all currently using online booking interfaces Airbnb or Vacation Rentals By Owner, were against extension of the tax, but instead used the opportunity to ask for more details on the extension.
Nancy Klossner, co-owner of the Highmarket Blue Silos Bed & Breakfast, Constableville, said she has been in business for 20 years and has been using Airbnb since August.
As a legal bed-and-breakfast, Mrs. Klossner said she has been calculating the state sales tax and the county bed tax and including them in the nightly fee she charges on the website, then paying those amounts to the proper authorities.
Lewis County will have an agreement in place with Airbnb through which the bed tax will be added to the nightly room rental fee, collected and sent to the county directly while providing documentation about the transaction to the property owner.
Mrs. Klossner said that because the website is not able to charge the state sales tax in the same way, she will have to continue adding it to her room fee and sending it to the state herself, causing the automatic bed tax charged by the website to be calculated on an amount that includes sales tax, which shouldn’t happen, according to law.
“It’s no big deal. I just wanted you to know it’s a glitch for me, that I have to deal with,” Mrs. Klossner said, after making several attempts to clarify the issue.
County Treasurer Patricia O’Brien agreed that it is a glitch, but no further comment was made on the issue.
Another legal bed-and-breakfast owner, Michael Gille of Gille’s Bed & Breakfast, Constableville, said he supports the law’s extension, but is concerned that there is no way to enforce it with people who rent their properties and rooms but don’t use online interfaces.
“We have law enforcement and building enforcement that ensure people are following regulations. That’s what we need for this,” Mr. Gille said, “Can’t there be someone that goes out once a month and looks for signs?”
A third property owner in attendance had originally built cabins to sell but rented them instead when the real estate market became soft, a venture which has turned out to be profitable for him.
“I’m not against it [the tax],” Ralph Kimbrell said. “I kind of knew it was going to happen because it’s pretty much the whole country is eating up the whole thing. I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to go about it.”
Mr. Kimbrell uses VRBO. However, County Manager Ryan Piche said he doesn’t know if it’s possible to organize a deal for automatic payments with that company, too.
The resolution passed with District 1 Legislator John Lehman casting the only negative vote.
Included under the extension are any private homes, cabins, cottages, camps, rooms and any other accommodations rented out for a fee for less than 30 days.
The tax must now be added to the nightly charges paid by the room guest, and the property owner will be responsible for documenting his or her room rentals and the bed tax collected, as well as forwarding the tax to the county treasurer’s office, except those who rent through Airbnb.
Property owners are also responsible for contacting the county treasurer’s office at 315-376-5325 to register.