County extends occupancy tax

Convention center debate crops up in split vote, lawmakers eye tax cap legislation

— The Albany County Legislature passed an extension of the county’s 6 percent hotel occupancy tax at a Monday, Sept. 10, meeting, but not before talk turned to the stalled Albany County Convention Center.

The occupancy tax sends about $1 million per year toward the $220 million project. Another portion of the tax goes to the Albany County Convention & Visitors Bureau in order to increase tourism in the area. The remainder of the money goes toward financing debt to the Times Union Center. The measure passed by a vote of 26-10.

When the law came up for a vote, Legislator Christopher Higgins, the only Democrat to oppose extending the tax, spoke against it, saying it was a “bad idea for our city.”

“We are spending…hundreds of thousands of dollars on healthcare and salaries and pension on this authority that hasn’t even completed one task,” said Higgins, who is running in a Democratic primary for an Assembly seat. “I think we need to reevaluate this.”

In contrast, County Legislator Bryan Clenahan said the hotel tax was his “favorite tax” because it’s assessed to non-residents.

“Let me say first of all that nobody likes taxes,” Clenahan said. “I find it a little bit irresponsible to oppose this without some kind of plan to make up those $2 million.”

Several other legislators who were dubious on the convention center’s feasibility nevertheless voted for the occupancy tax. County Legislature Gary W. Domalewicz said he’s happy with the tax because the money can “pay down our debt service on the Times Union Center.” He also added that he doesn’t have “too much hope it’s going to be a convention center.”

County Legislator Mary Lou Connolly also stood in support of the tax when she expressed that Albany County is a tourism destination.

“We take the beauty, the history, we take everything for granted because we live here every day. People come from all over the world, come to Albany, to see our history,” Connolly said.

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