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LEGISLATURE TO CONSIDER SEEKING OK FOR $1-PER-NIGHT BED TAX

A proposal to ask the State Legislature to allow Niagara County to add $1 per night to the cost of every hotel room faces uncertain prospects at Tuesday's County Legislature meeting.

The resolution presents the county bed tax as the only alternative to abolishing the county tourism office. That agency is slated for demise under the "5 percent scenario," a program of budget cuts said to be needed if the county is to hold next year's property tax hike to 5 percent while dealing with a projected $12.3 million shortfall.

The home-rule message is to be added to the agenda as a late item, but that means either party leader or the Legislature chairman can block it by refusing to sign it.

Minority Leader Robert L. Seger, D-North Tonawanda, said he may refuse to sign the measure, depending on what his Democratic colleagues tell him in caucus.

Seger said he supports closing the tourism office.

"I was always in favor of doing away with the tourism department and turning it back to the private sector," said Seger. "I haven't changed my mind."

But Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster, R-Ransomville, said he would probably go along with the resolution.

"I guess I would support a request," he said. "Just because we ask for the (home rule) message doesn't mean we have to vote the tax."

Burmaster said he's not in favor of wiping out the tourism agency or many of the other programs in the 5 percent scenario.

"I can't see us gutting the county. I'm in favor of cutting judiciously," said Burmaster. He said tourism is the only industry "that has any chance of bailing us out of the (economic) doldrums."

If the State Legislature approves the home-rule request, the County Legislature would have to vote again to impose the tax.

Adding the bed tax would generate $852,851 a year, according to figures released last month by Cyd L. Bennett, deputy commissioner for tourism. That's based on the average 54 percent year-round occupancy rate of the 4,327 hotel rooms in the county.

This year, the county allocated $618,000 in property tax revenue toward the tourism office's $992,000 budget.

Niagara Falls already has a 4 percent bed tax, and Lockport's is 3 percent. Erie County charges 5 percent. Niagara Falls, Ont., charges no bed tax, but its sales tax is twice as high as Niagara County's because of the federal goods and services tax added to the provincial sales tax.

On other topics Tuesday, the Legislature is expected to approve a one-year, $27,000 contract for First Niagara Risk Management to guide the county workers' compensation pool. Since 1999, member municipalities have been bailing out of the pool because of steadily rising costs. The program is also $1.7 million in the hole.

Also, Edmond C. Marchi, administrator of the Orleans County Nursing Home, is expected to be hired as the new administrator of Mount View Health Facility at a salary of $72,246. He will start work in late December, replacing Robert F. Harrington, who is retiring.

The Legislature will also consider appropriating $45,000 from the Mount View surplus to pay for the continuation of private accounting services from the Buffalo firm of Freed Maxick for the rest of the year. The firm was originally hired for $25,000 after Mount View Controller Robert T. Dombrowski was suspended in January on charges of sexually harassing a female colleague.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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