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Lewis officials dispute bed tax concerns from ex-legislator

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County officials contend their bed tax collection system is working well, despite concerns to the contrary from a former lawmaker.

“As a voluntary system, it is working,” said County Attorney Richard J. Graham of the county’s 5 percent hotel occupancy tax. “The businesses are compliant, participating and being good corporate citizens.”

One business, Timberview Resort in Houseville, has been “chronically delinquent,” and county officials are working with manager John P. DeGuardia to collect back bed taxes, said Mr. Graham, to whom other county officials referred questions on the subject.

The business had failed to submit some bed tax returns until the past day or so, hindering county officials from determining an exact amount of past-due payments, plus penalties, he said.

Bruce R. Krug, a former Democratic legislator and chairman from Leyden who headed the board when the final bed tax law was passed in November 2004, expressed concern that the county might not be vigorously pursuing collection of the tax from hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfasts.

“They’re not staying on top of this they way they should,” he said.

Mr. Krug last spring made a Freedom of Information Law request that sought, among other things, a list of businesses more than 30 days delinquent on bed tax payments over the past several years, with documentation on county actions to collect the money. After county officials for many months avoided providing that information, Mr. Krug successfully sued the county and, through a court order, received the documentation.

The papers received indicate that many businesses — with Timberview being easily the most frequent offender — had been listed as delinquent in filing returns or paying bed taxes during at least one of the quarterly collection periods each year. They also included form letters sent to businesses that did not pay promptly.

Mr. Krug said the papers he received made the collection process appear inconsistent, with letters sent to specific businesses at different times than when they allegedly were delinquent. “I don’t understand the process here,” he said.

That paperwork did not indicate when businesses paid up or when phone calls were made between county staff and the business owners, Mr. Graham said. He said the vast majority of businesses listed did not stay delinquent for long, and he estimated the county has collected, on average, well over 95 percent of bed taxes due each year.

The county collected about $82,200 from the bed tax in 2011, according to information provided by the treasurer’s office.

The county may go to court to seek a judgment against a delinquent business, but thus far has attempted to work with businesses on compliance without going that more expensive and time-consuming route, Mr. Graham said.

“You can spend a lot of time chasing hundreds of dollars when we have multimillion-dollar issues,” he said.

According to filings in the Lewis County clerk’s office, Timberview Resort is delinquent on about $20,000 in sales tax payments to the state stemming from a pair of claims filed in 2011. Two other prior state delinquent claims were paid by the company.

The business previously was owned and operated by Mr. DeGuardia as Timberview Lodge, but it was sold in a 2008 foreclosure auction to Josand Corp., Bronx, for $442,144.35. That company began doing business as Timberview Resort, with Mr. DeGuardia staying on as manager.

County clerk records indicate Timberview Lodge and its also-defunct Polaris dealership still have federal liens against them for roughly $85,000 and state liens totaling $500,000 stemming from alleged nonpayment of taxes.

Attempts to reach Mr. DeGuardia at the resort Friday were unsuccessful. However, he did indicate following the recent Snirt Run all-terrain-vehicle rally that the lack of snowmobile traffic over the winter likely would have meant closure of the business, consisting of a bar, restaurant and motel, without the boost in business from the one-day event.

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