QUEENSBURY-About half of Warren County's surplus bed tax money of a little more than $1 million will be set aside as a reserve fund for unanticipated county tourism needs - and $43,000 of the excess will be spent to promote events planned this year, Warren County leaders decided Monday Feb. 28.
Supervisors on the county's Occupancy Tax Coordination Committee will be reconvening in a special meeting March 10 to decide which events in the county will get more money, and how much.
Forty-two events planned for 2011 received a total of $306,500 in grants during an allocation process by the supervisors in January, and in most cases, the amounts granted were substantially less than requested, and a variety of events were not funded at all.
Supervisors decided Monday that they will be considering requests made only in advance of the March 10 meeting for new allocations.
Promoters of such events as Americade, the Adirondack Nationals Car Show, the Lake George Triathlon, the Adirondack Balloon Festival and the Lake George Community Band Festival have already submitted initial requests for increased funding, county officials said.
Adirondack Balloon Festival officials have previously aired their dismay that their net funding has been decreased by nearly half, as they were asked this year to shoulder about $10,500 in expenses for county employees'overtime pay.
This is a small sum, they they said, in comparison to the county's two other large events - Americade, which received $48,000 from the county for 2011, and the state high school basketball championship tournaments, which received $28,000 this year.
Area tourism experts have also questioned why the county declined for 2011 to allocate money to the Lake George Community Band Festival, which has annually showcased dozens of bands with as many as 500 musicians from all over the continent and attracted thousands to Lake George.
Several county officials said funding for these two events would likely be up for reconsideration March 10.
Monday, the county supervisors decided to move up the deadline for event promoters to annually submit their applications - from Dec. 1 to Nov. 1 for events to be held the following year.
They also decided on to give more leeway in their evaluation process, to shift more weight to applications for events that have the most potential for growth and prompt the greatest number of overnight stays.
Supervisors expressed dismay that some promoters predict an unrealistically high potential bed-night totals, and they said some follow-up verification needs to be conducted of their predictions.
"We're putting a lot of emphasis on something so subjective, and we really can't verify it," said Warrensburg Supervisor Kevin Geraghty, who serves as county Budget Officer. "I've seen so many event promoters project numbers that don't even seem possible."
Lake George Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Luisa Craige-Sherman said the Smith Travel Report, which is a national resource for such bed-night figures, only surveys a small fraction of the 9,000 available rooms in the Lake George area.
She said her organization for years has been urging accommodations to voluntarily submit bed-night statistics for tourism planning purposes, and that she'd continue to seek their cooperation.
Monday, county supervisors also talked about setting aside excess Occupancy Tax money into a capital reserve fund to bankroll a tourism-related construction project such as a visitors center. Several years ago, county leaders considered buying the former Basketville store on state Rte. 9 just north of Northway Exit 20 as a visitors center and headquarters for the county tourism operations.
The supervisors also mentioned setting aside money for constructing an events venue at the former Gaslight Village.
Talk also surfaced Monday of using some of the excess Occupancy Tax money to pay off the county's outstanding balance of $268,000 of a loan taken out years ago to purchase Gaslight Village. The county's share of the purchase price was $1.2 million. County officials said a payment of $133,000 toward the outstanding balance was due to be paid Monday. Geraghty said that whether Occupancy Tax receipts could legally be used to pay off such a loan would have to be researched by county Attorney Paul Dusek.
Decisions on earmarking money for a capital reserve fund will be undertaken in months to come, the supervisors agreed.
The Occupancy Tax is a 4 percent surcharge on rooms rented short-term. The surplus of $1 million, overlooked by county leaders until a few weeks ago, accrued during the past four years due to the county tourism department spending less than allocated and tax receipts exceeding amounts previously allocated for events, officials said.