Despite the Occupancy Tax Committee’s recommendation not to grant the North Creek Business Alliance $13,200 for its tourist shuttle, Johnsburg Town Board members Tuesday, Dec. 4 decided to override the committee and grant $10,000 to the group.
During the regular Town Board meeting at the Wevertown Community Center, Councilman Pete Olesheski presented the recommendations of the Occupancy Tax Committee — of which he is the chairman — for awarding occupancy tax (ak.a. bed tax) monies to projects that support tourism.
The recommendations proved controversial because the committee decided to not award any money to the North Creek Business Alliance shuttle, which provides transportation from Gore Mountain, the Ski Bowl and downtown North Creek during ski season.
Olesheski explained that, according to the guidelines, any project requesting funding during multiple years would have their maximum allowable award incrementally reduced by 25 percent beginning with their second year’s request. This meant that the shuttle, which applied for $13,200, was only eligible for $3,300 after the required 75 percent reduction. The shuttle has been servicing the community for four years.
But the committee didn’t even award that amount. Olesheski said the decision was based on communications he had with Erwin Morris, one of the owners of Summit at Gore Condos, which indicated that the Business Alliance had been unwilling to work with them and have them be part of the shuttle service, which was in violation of the requirement that applicants be inclusive of all businesses in the area.
“From the committee’s standpoint,” Olesheski said, “we were just trying to follow the guidelines that were established, trying to be as fair as we could.”
Sharon Taylor said she had met with the Morris brothers within the past 30 days as a representative of the Business Alliance, to discuss partnering with them on the shuttle and “they flat out told me that they did not want to participate with us.”
Olesheski said while that this new information would change the Business Alliance’s eligibility, it would unfortunately not change the maximum amount they were eligible for under the guidelines, which would still only be $3,300.
Mike Bowers, part of owner of barVino and co-chairmen of the North Creek Business Alliance, defended the shuttle.
“Bear in mind, occupancy tax exists for one reason: to promote tourism,” Bowers said. “Our town is always going to be a tourism town … and that’s why we’ve worked so hard at promoting tourism, and to be a bona fide tourist town their needs to transportation. That shuttle stops at every lodging facility and serves the entire area.”
Bowers said that last year, out of all the bed tax applications submitted to Warren County, theirs was ranked 10th.
“Warren County validates the shuttle in North Creek, and they are the originator of collecting this money that distributes it to the local government,” Bowers said.
After Olesheski again went through the process that the committee followed in determining its awards and said it would be unfair to make an exception to the percentage reduction rule just for the shuttle, Councilman Gene Arsenault offered his view.
“If I’ve seen any project that speaks to using bed tax money to help enhance and promote our community, then this is it,” Arsenault said. “I just see this as a comprehensive program that is vital to our continued growth, and if anything we should be talking about some sort of enhancement to this program.”
Some alternatives for funding the shuttle and possibly handling applications in the future were discussed until Councilman Arnold Stevens asked if Supervisor Ron Vanselow could come up with $3,200. After Vanselow replied that he could, Arnold made a motion to accept the recommendations of the committee except for the Business Alliance shuttle project, to which he wanted to award $10,000. The motion was passed with Olesheski dissenting.
After the meeting, Olesheski said that the recommendations the committee produced were strictly based on the directions and guidelines they were provided. The application clearly states: “Funding for up to four years only for the same request; each year, similar requests diminished by 25%.”
It was because of this stipulation — which as written didn’t provide any leeway — that he and the committee did not use the formula for ranking the projects. That formula is used in the event that it is necessary to allocate funds based on merit because there is not enough money to meet the requests of all eligible applicants.
Olesheski said that he had in the past raised the issue of using the Warren County guidelines, which include a clause for funding perpetual projects. For him, the biggest stumbling block was the way the current rules and guidelines are written.
The next Johnsburg Town Board meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 18 at the Tannery Pond Community Center.
•North Country Hardship Fund - Wayne Stock VI - $1,375
•Johnsburg Fine Arts - Mosaic Project - $2,417.50
•Gore Mountain Region Chamber of Commerce - Rec. Seminars - $1,120
•Gore Mountain Region Chamber of Commerce - Business Directory - $1,125
•Chamber of Commerce - Adventure Festival - $2,500
•Tannery Pond Community Center Association - Jazz Concert - $2,000
•North Creek Business Alliance - River Music - $1,375
•Chris Hitchcock Memorial Fund - Ride/Pig Roast - $2,770.30
•North Creek Business Alliance - Cruise Nights - $2,598.75
•Railway Depot Museum - Rail Fair - $750
•Summit at Gore Condos - Shuttle - $5,000
The reason they were not awarded any money was because they failed to meet the application requirements. Specifically, their unwillingness to participate with the North Creek Business Alliance shuttle. One of the requirements is that the “project must be all-inclusive of the community.”
•North Creek Business Alliance - Shuttle - $13,200 request
In the end, the Town Board awarded $10,000 to the shuttle from the committee's funds, contrary to the committee’s recommendation. Supervisor Ron Vanselow said he would come up with the $3,200 balance.