Cattaraugus County has become the 17th county in the state to begin collecting bed taxes from Airbnb rentals.

Deputy County Treasurer Matthew Keller raised the issue with members of the County Legislature’s Development and Agriculture Committee earlier this year. He cited up to $500,000 in Airbnb bookings in the county over the previous year.

In an interview Friday, Matthew Keller said he was assigned to work on the issue of uncollected bed taxes soon after his appointment last year. Hotels, motels, condominiums and other lodging in the county collected $703,000 in bed tax revenues in 2016.

Keller said Airbnb has 109 houses listed in Cattaraugus County which hosted 4,500 visitors. Each host books an average of $5,300 in lodging a year.

Some Airbnb hosts had forwarded the 5 percent bed tax to the County Treasurer’s Office, but most did not, Keller said. Based on $575,000 in actual Airbnb bookings, the hosts would have owed about $30,000 in bed taxes last year.

The agreement between Airbnb and Cattaraugus County called for collection of the bed tax to begin on Saturday, allowing for three months of collection in 2017.

Airbnb is responsible for about 33 percent  of the direct vacation rental transactions in Cattaraugus County, Keller said. Two others, Homeaway and VRBO have recently combined under the Homeaway name.

The largest number of direct rentals in the Ellicottville area was VRBO, according to Keller’s research. Homeaway is currently involved in voluntary collections.

“It’s a good first step,” Keller said of the agreement between Cattaraugus County and Airbnb. He thinks it will put pressure on the other groups to collect the bed taxes and forward them to the county. “They are setting the bar,” he said of Airbnb.

“We’re hoping others follow suit and choose the option of collecting the occupancy (bed) tax,” Keller said. “It also helps local hotels level the playing field, because they already collect the bed tax.”

A portion of the bed tax goes to help support the Chambers of Commerce in Ellicottville ($75,312), Olean ($38,317) and Salamanca $18,498).

The county Department of Economic Development, Planning and Tourism is set to receive $88,000 in 2017 to assist other business groups, tourism destinations and events with advertising and promotion.

“The agreement with Airbnb is a win-win-win for both the county and the hosts,” said Treasurer Joseph Keller, who collaborated with Airbnb officials to come up with the agreement. “It will help to level the playing field across the lodging industry and places the county in an advantageous position in the ever-changing tourism industry

“I am very pleased that the Airbnb was so cooperative in drafting and negotiating the agreement.”

Josh Meltzer, head of New York Public Policy for Airbnb, said, “We’re excited to work with Cattaraugus County to welcome more visitors to the Enchanted Mountains and grow the County’s tax base as the autumn travel season kicks into high gear.”

Meltzer said, “We hope the agreements we have reached with New York counties will serve as models for how local and state governments can work collaboratively with our community to boost incomes and provide more tax revenue.”

Cattaraugus Airbnb hosts cater to a range of travelers, from families visiting Allegany State Park and the Amish Trail to skiers and snowboarders at Holiday Valley and HoliMont, Meltzer said.

“In 2016, the typical host in Cattaraugus County earned $5,300 with many hosts using this supplemental income to start small businesses, save for retirement, repay student debt or pay their rent or mortgage,” he said.

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at rmiller@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)

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