By DANIEL OFFNER
The fourth time might be the charm.
Members of the New York State Assembly have passed a long-awaited home rule bill that could potentially enable Harrison to levy a 3 percent tax on hotel occupants and provide the municipality with as much as $250,000 a year in non-property tax dollars.
According to state Assemblyman David Buchwald, a White Plains Democrat who helped spearhead the initiative through the state’s less prominent house, the purpose of the legislation is to provide property tax relief for Harrison homeowners.
Within the boundaries of Harrison, there are two hotels, the Renaissance Westchester Hotel on West Red Oak Lane and the Hyatt House on Corporate Park Drive.
“Visitors to other towns do impose costs,” Buchwald said. “When you go to a hotel, you expect local taxes on hotel bills. It’s the norm in many places across Westchester County.”
This is the first time in recent years that Harrison has seen the hotel tax legislation make it through the state Assembly. When town officials questioned Buchwald on the status of a similar bill proposed in the state Senate, the answer was similar.
“[The bill] made it to the floor of the Senate,” Buchwald said. “But there has been a general reluctance [in the Senate] to approve anything that appears to be a new tax.”
After several failed attempts, the tax has yet to meet the approval of the state Senate or Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who famously swore “no new taxes” upon taking office in 2011.
Buchwald said that since the bill passed in the Assembly this year, it means the town’s efforts to reap the benefits of a 3 percent occupancy tax will not need to start at square one, but will require the town approve another home rule bill in January 2014.
“Can we ever get a hotel tax here in Harrison,” asked Harrison Mayor Ron Belmont, a Republican who has been advocating for a town hotel tax since taking office at the beginning of 2012.
The tax comes with a three-year sunset clause meaning local communities must continually ask for state authorization to implement it.
Initially, the tax on hotel occupants had only been applicable to cities in the state; however, villages and towns would later join in after approving similar home rule laws through the state legislature.
Despite the fact that West-chester County imposes its own 3 percent tax on hotel occupants, the municipal taxes exist in several of Harrison’s neighboring municipalities including the cities of Rye, White Plains and New Rochelle, as well as the Village of Rye Brook.
According to state Sen. George Latimer, a Rye Democrat who helped carry the occupancy tax for Rye City—the first municipality in Westchester to gain authorization to implement the tax—first in 2006, and again in 2009 and 2012, and Rye Brook in 2010, it took five to six years of attempts before the state finally approved the tax in nearby Rye Brook.
While the non-partisan bill permitting Harrison to levy non-property tax revenue is a tough sell under the Cuomo regime, Latimer said he plans to reintroduce the bill until it is approved.
The next session of the state legislature is scheduled to convene in January.