OLEAN — The Olean Common Council expressed interest in the idea of a transient occupancy tax in the city as a way to generate income for tourism and community development.
In the council’s Strategic Planning Committee meeting Tuesday, Council President John Crawford, D-Ward 5, explained that a transient occupancy tax, also known as a bed tax, could be placed on rentable rooms at hotels or Airbnbs for those staying in Olean from outside the city.
Mayor Bill Aiello said he has talked with Assemblyman Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda, and Sen. George Borrello, R-Chautauqua County, and they are in favor of bringing it to the state level for approval once the city passes a resolution.
“Right now the county’s bed tax is at 5 perent, and they get $75,000 to $80,000 a year out of Olean out of that tax,” the mayor said. “Remember, this is not a tax on our people. It’s going to be on people coming in and using our hotels.”
Aiello said the idea was presented to the council many years ago but not approved. Alderman Linda Witte, D-Ward 1, said she remembers when it was first brought up around 2001 and some council members didn’t understand the tax was not on local residents.
“They use our resources, they use our roads, the police take care of them, our fire department takes care of them,” she explained. “I think it’s long overdue. The county and other municipalities have been doing it for years. Why shouldn’t we get our fair share?”
Aiello said he would like to see the funds from the tax to go toward economic development. Crawford agreed, adding that the funds could be used for marketing Olean as a tourist destination.
“These are avenues that are not penalizing our residents,” he said. “The county’s getting it. Why shouldn’t we?”
Alderman David Anastasia, D-Ward 7, who was on the County Legislature when the county adopted the bed tax, agreed with the other aldermen, adding it’s worth pursuing.
Alderman Jason Panus, R-Ward 2, said he would be in favor of a resolution if the money generated would go toward economic development that can go back into the community. Crawford said that would be the caveat for him as well.
IN OTHER BUSINESS, Panus addressed the concern of the recently closed Farwell landfill in Ischua and the effect it’s having on locals with vegetation and brush to dispose of.
Panus said some use the city’s facilities when open, but it can’t handle the large amounts of debris that the Farwell site used to, and there is a need in the area.
“The folks at the county are trying to get something of that nature reopened a couple days a week, but it sounds like it could be limited to just bags and things the transfer station will take and here at the city,” he added. “It still leaves people who have bigger equipment or trucks that aren’t working for profit a problem, a place they can’t get rid of things.”
DPW Director Robert Ring said both the city crews and Casella Waste Systems used to take yard waste and debris to Farwell. He said they now take everything to a place in Franklinville.
“It’s only a matter of time before he doesn’t want to take it anymore,” Ring added.
Aiello said he has discussed the issue with county officials and recommends the city formally request the county reopen Farwell. He said every residential lot in Olean pays county taxes so the county should have a place for residents to dispose of yard waste and brush.
“If people can’t find places, they’re going to burn more often in their yards,” Panus said. “We’re at a point in history where we understand the problem with that as well, so I think it’s a poor decision to promote that kind of behavior.”
ALSO OF NOTE, Crawford said there has been a spike in the feral cat population in Olean since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and end of the city’s trap and release program.
Aiello said the city is in negotiations with the SPCA on how to address the issue and hopes to have an agreement later this month.
“It’s going to be a challenge. We were going to get a little bit of a handle when Covid hit and that set us back,” he said.
The mayor said the city should also look into hiring an animal control officer.
Crawford said he also talked to the SPCA and was told it would take a couple weeks to get an appointment for cats to be fixed and vaccinated. He said he would like to set up a meeting between the city, SPCA and Cattaraugus County Cat Nippers on a strategy to control the feral cat population.