On Thursday, members of the Harrietstown board unanimously voted no to a proposed $12,500 destination marketing contract with the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism. ROOST Chief Operating Officer Mary Jane Lawrence, ROOST accountant John Huttlinger, and the organization’s former Saranac Lake Marketing Manager Justin Levine first approached the town in February seeking the contract.
Harrietstown is located in Franklin County. The county has a dedicated destination marketing organization, the Franklin County LDC.
What happened in February?
Harrietstown first decided not to renew its longstanding contract with ROOST in 2020. The town board was not seeking a marketing contract when ROOST approached them this year.
During the February 11 town board meeting, council members asked Lawrence and Levine to justify giving ROOST $12,500. Council members cited ongoing transparency issues with the organization, noting they had asked to see a detailed ROOST budget more than a year ago and have still not seen it, to which Lawrence responded, “That was in the past and we have to look forward.” The council members questioned why the town should funnel taxpayer money through ROOST to support local events and organizations instead of simply donating the money directly.
Why it matters
Currently, ROOST has contracts with Essex and Hamilton counties, as well as the village of Saranac Lake, the town of Piercefield, and the town and village of Tupper Lake. The $12,500 contract with the village of Saranac Lake represents the organization’s only revenue stream coming from the portion of Saranac Lake that’s in Franklin County.
Last year, ROOST gave the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce $20,000 but only took in $12,500 from the Franklin County side of Saranac Lake. Without the Harrietstown contract, it is unclear how ROOST will make up that deficit, let alone pay for Saranac Lake marketing efforts in Franklin County.
In case you didn’t know
- Saranac Lake’s boundaries are somewhat confusing. The village lies in two counties—Franklin and Essex—and three towns, Harrietstown, North Elba, and St. Armand. The North Elba portion of Saranac Lake is in Essex County.
- In 2019, ROOST’s contract with Franklin County was not renewed for the first time in five years. ROOST’s initial bid to renew the Franklin County contract was submitted in October 2019 and rejected by county legislators. The marketing organization did not submit another proposal when the contract went out for a second round of bids and the two-year contract was awarded to the Franklin County Local Development Corp.
- Almost all of ROOST’s revenue is from public funds, primarily a combination of occupancy tax money and contracts with local governments. Other public funds ROOST relies on include state grants and matching fund programs.
- Occupancy tax money is derived from a set percentage applied to short-term rental stays. By law, it must be spent on destination marketing for the county in which it’s collected.
- Occupancy tax only affects people staying in places like hotels, motels, and Airbnb rentals; it is not drawn from the local tax base. In Essex County, the occupancy tax can generate more than $3 million annually. The smaller contracts ROOST has with various towns and villages are funded by local taxpayer money.
- The Franklin County occupancy tax revenue has risen steadily from one non-pandemic year to the next, and will likely net more than $400,000 when things return to normal.