By CHRIS EBERHART
In a stunning, last-minute change of heart, the New York state Senate passed hotel occupancy tax bills for six Westchester communities, including the villages of Tuckahoe and Mamaroneck and
the Town/Village of Harrison, after years of unsuccessfully trying to petition the state for the tax.
Historically, the hotel occupancy tax bills, which impose a 3 percent charge on hotel occupants within a municipality’s borders on top of a 3 percent Westchester County hotel tax that’s already in place, passed in the Democratic-led state Assembly but was repeatedly shot down by the Republican-controlled state Senate because of a reluctance to institute a new tax.
But during this legislative session under the new leadership of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Huntington Republican, the Senate changed its longstanding policy and passed a number of new taxes, including a hotel occupancy tax for the Westchester communities and three upstate counties.
State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, a Scarsdale Democrat who represents Tuckahoe, said the hotel tax approvals for county governments opened the door for the possibility of the hotel tax in the local Westchester County municipalities.
A group of four Democratic Assemblymembers—Paulin, Steve Otis, of Rye, Tom Abinanti, of Greenburgh, and David Buchwald, of White Plains—pushed Heastie to intervene on their behalf and urge the Senate to pass the bills.
“There was drama all day,” Paulin said. “It was late in the legislative session—I’d say around 10 [p.m.] or so—when we found out the bills passed the Senate. It’s hard to know what changed their minds, but I know a lot of calls were made. A lot of pressure was put on the leaders.”
When asked if the change in regimes from former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, and Dean Skelos, a Rockville Centre Republican, to Heastie and Flanagan had anything to do with the bills passing, Paulin said, “There’s no question.”
“Under the old leadership, I don’t think these bills pass,” Paulin said. “This was the window of opportunity, and if we didn’t get it done now, we don’t know if we’d ever get it done.”
But the Republicans in the Senate were just one of the roadblocks.
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been against a hotel occupancy tax for the same reason as the Senate, still has to sign the bill into law, and then, the local municipalities have to vote to pass the authorization. All the state bills do is allow the local municipalities to establish the hotel occupancy tax. Locally, the municipality still has to follow the steps of establishing a new law.
In Tuckahoe, the village Planning Board is currently vetting a proposal to build a Marriott Springhill Suite hotel on the old quarry site on Marbledale Road. If the hotel occupancy tax were to be implemented, travelers who stay in the hotel would pay a tax to the village, which in turn would allow the village to lower property taxes for
Tuckahoe Mayor Steve Ecklond, a Republican, said if the bill becomes law in the village and the hotel is built, Tuckahoe could collect an additional $150,000 per year that would go toward lowering village taxes.
“I have been working with many people on both sides of the aisle over the past few days to get this done,” Ecklond said, “and I am pleased that everyone worked together to do what is best for Tuckahoe.”
State Sen. George Latimer, a Rye Democrat, has been a proponent of the hotel tax carrying the bill on behalf of several municipalities over the last few years. Latimer said it isn’t a new tax and primarily affects out-of-towners as opposed to local taxpayers.
“This is about creating a new revenue stream for the village to keep property taxes for residents down,” said Latimer, who carried the bill in the Senate for Tuckahoe for the past two years.
Cities such as White Plains, New Rochelle, Rye and the Village of Rye Brook are among the other municipalities in Westchester that already impose the tax on hotel patrons.
In 2011, Rye Brook set the precedent as the only non-city to secure the tax. White Plains, New Rochelle and Rye annually collect approximately $1 million, $280,000 and $150,000 annually in hotel taxes, respectively, while Rye Brook collects approximately $630,000 annually.
The authorization has a sunset clause requiring communities to reapply for the tax every three years.