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Essex County considers software to ensure bed tax compliance

July 10, 2017
By ANTONIO OLIVERO - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Essex County, and in turn this village and the town of North Elba, are considering paying for a software program to help locate online vacation rental listings to secure compliance with the county's occupancy tax and local rental safety regulations.

The county, town and village are contemplating two different programs: STR (Short Term Rental) Helper and Taxcrawler, by a company named LTAS Technologies.

At a May Essex County Board of Supervisors public hearing, where the board passed a resolution to renew its occupancy tax law for a new three-year period beginning this month, county Director of Weights and Measures Wayne Taylor relayed to the board that he had met with representatives from the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism and a third-party software provider.

Article Photos

This vacation rental property on Church Street in Lake Placid is currently listed online.
(News photo — Andy Flynn)

"Who typically provides a service, data mines multiple internet venues for solicitations, offering properties for rent," Taylor said. "And they do. They will provide a spreadsheet and again it's very precise. It's not hit or miss. It's a very scientific-based practice and, anyway, they would provide a listing to us. And, again, North Elba's (code enforcement office) was there. They're interested in it as well, in terms of code compliance and there's multiple facets to it. But there is a way - more scientific - that may get us to where we need to go, in terms of names."

Dean Dietrich, the chairman of the North Elba-Lake Placid Community Development Commission, relayed to both the North Elba Town Council and Lake Placid Village Board at meetings last month that the county was deciding whether to use either software program. He said preliminary meetings had taken place between representatives of the software providers, Essex County, Franklin County, ROOST and the CDC.

"There are software providers out there that have searchable search robots that go out and they will search 16 to 18 sites, or 24 sites, depending on how much you are willing to pay," Dietrich said. "And they will give you a list of 'These are all of the people advertising rental units in your jurisdiction.'

"One company we have talked to is STR," Dietrich continued. "They work mostly out in Colorado, Utah, Garden City, Park City, Breckenridge, et cetera."

Dietrich added that the STR software was developed by the mayor of Garden City, Colorado, who also works as a software engineer.

"It kind of took off and worked and the next town over said, 'We want to buy it from you,'" Dietrich said. "And he kind of morphed that into a little side business."

North Elba town Supervisor Roby Politi told Dietrich he has spoken with Taylor about the Taxcrawler software, which the county understood would cost $46,000 per year.

Dietrich elaborated that the Toronto-based Taxcrawler at that price may provide more than what the town and village need.

"They are trying to get New York City (vacation rentals)," Dietrich said of Taxcrawler, "and they do more than we want. You could get a subpackage."

"The reason (Taxcrawler) was expensive is they have people that actually sit down and they look at the rental calendars," Dietrich added. "They look at reviews, how much it was rented and they will predict the revenue from each unit. That's much more than we need."

Politi said he was hopeful the town and village could benefit from the county investing in either program, meaning neither the town nor the village taxpayers would have to pay for it.

"That's the best thing to do," Dietrich said. "That'd be the ultimate goal."

Dietrich added that if the town and village through the CDC chose to pursue the more reasonable option, STR, it would cost about $7,000.

"That system would at least catch the VRBOs (Vacation Rentals by Owner), the Airbnbs - it'd catch everyone," Politi said.

Dietrich added that if the county used the STR program, its cost would run closer to $15,000.

"And STR would license out (to municipalities)," Dietrich said. "Their secondary license is much cheaper. They've worked that out with a couple of counties and towns in Colorado. The county owns it."

"I believe we are going to go in that direction," Politi said. "And the reason is because if you don't go in that direction, you are discriminating against the guy who is abiding and the guy who is in internet outer space.

"I'm just saying, for the county's vacation occupancy law, in order for it to work in a non-discriminatory way, that's really what should be done."

"The best-case scenario is get it for free through the county," Dietrich said. "Worst case is $7,000 to $8,000 thousand dollars (for town and village taxpayers). (STR's) is based on the number of rental units."

At the May public hearing on vacation rentals, Taylor said initial research by the software providers found 80 percent of the county's vacation rental offerings reside within North Elba.

"He said there's like 800," Taylor said. "They felt like we were doing really, really well in the sense that we have like 370 signed up (to pay the occupancy tax).

"By the way," Taylor continued, "we've been doing it and, like I said, it's hit or miss. It works, slow, but sure."

"It will get better," Politi replied to Taylor, "because brokers and owners will start pointing fingers at their neighbors. 'I'm paying and you're not. You need to know about this guy,' and that's what happens in this kind of situation."

In 2015, Essex and Franklin counties passed laws to include vacation rentals along with hoteliers as those who were required to pay each counties occupancy tax, which funds ROOST, an organization that markets the region and its communities to visitors.

At the start of 2016, though, compliance with the new laws were slow to come around, as at a March 2016 meeting of the Essex County Occupancy Tax Vacation Rental Subcommittee, Taylor said the county had only around 90 registrants, a small percentage of the perceived number of those renting. ROOST CEO Jim McKenna estimated at the time that was only 15 to 20 percent all vacation rentals in the county.



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