The secrecy clause in Erie County's bed-tax law was never meant to protect delinquent hotel owners who simply keep the taxes they've collected, the County Legislature said Thursday, unanimously approving a statement intended to avoid a repeat of the Cosentino episode.
Lawmakers approved a resolution that urged county officials to feel free to identify hotel or motel owners who tax their guests but don't turn the money over to county government.
County officials have said the 1974 law that authorized the bed tax, now at 5 percent, assured the owners of lodging establishments that their quarterly payments would be confidential so as not to disclose their sales volume.
In recent weeks, county officials have used that clause to conceal the name of a certain hotel owner who collected bed taxes and kept them. After 14 years and three repayment schedules, he still owes money to county government.
The Buffalo News disclosed that the delinquent hotelier is James A. Cosentino, president of the company that owned the former Radisson Hotel across from Buffalo Niagara International Airport. The hotel is no longer operating, but a Cosentino company still owes the government about $400,000 in bed taxes.
The company paid about $150,000 in recent weeks, putting it back on schedule. If it continues to meet its payments, the debt should be discharged next year.
Legislator Cynthia E. Locklear, D-West Seneca, pushed the statement approved Thursday as an attempt to clarify the law passed 33 years ago. The law was never intended to provide "a shield to protect delinquent entities," the statement said.
Still, the county's lawyers believe that clarifying the law is not enough. They believe the law itself should be changed, with new wording suggested by Comptroller Mark C. Poloncarz.
Poloncarz, who agrees the secrecy clause hamstrings efforts to collect from delinquent hoteliers, wants to add a paragraph that lifts the secrecy provision for hotel owners who need a repayment agreement.
Locklear intends to soon begin steps to change the law and wants to complete the process before the Legislature's summer recess.