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Proposed hospitality tax increase meets opposition

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Mike Desmond/WBFO
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Proponents believe an increase in Erie County's hotel bed tax could go a long way toward cleaning up the region's problematic wastewater overflows. Opponents argue the proposal would hamper the area's competitiveness in the tourism industry.

"When you couple the (proposed) bed tax with all the sales tax, that would actually make Buffalo and Erie County the highest bed tax in the State of New York," said Visit Buffalo Niagara President and CEO Patrick Kaler.

"Even New York City is at 14.75 (percent) and this would take Buffalo to 16.75, once you take in all of the other sales tax that gets put onto a bed tax."

The proposal was floated Monday by Erie County Legislator Patrick Burke as he stood on a Buffalo River embankment above a sewer overflow. He's looking to help homeowners who are being required to modify their gutter downspouts so they don't go into the sewer system. The discharges overload sewage treatment plants, sending sewer overflows into area waterways.

"We have people in our community who are overburdened but we have to get this done. This isn't something that can wait," said Burke of a consent decree from the Department of Environmental Conservation. The modifications would erase a problem that has polluted local streams and creeks for decades.

"Constituents are the ones who are going to pay the bill and they need help."

The current bed tax of five percent produces more than $10 million a year in revenue. About one-third of the proceeds are spent on tourism promotion with the rest going into the regular county budget.

Burke offers specific plans for the proposed revenue boost with two-thirds going "towards a water quality fund which homeowners can use to take out no-interest loans for lateral pipe replacements and....municipalities can tap into the fund to save money on sewer upgrades."

He is targeting a hotel bed tax so those from outside the area "but utilize our resources can give relief to local taxpayers and to contribute to water infrastructure improvements."