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Onondaga County lawmakers vote to increase county hotel tax to 7%

Ellen Abbott
Onondaga County lawmakers Thursday voted to raise the county's hotel tax from 5% to 7%. The measure needs approval from the state legislature and governor

Onondaga County is taking the first step towards raising the county’s hotel occupancy tax from 5% to 7%. Raising it would allow officials to properly market the Syracuse area as a tourist destination, according to Visit Syracuse CEO Danny Liedke.

"Right now we’re probably spending somewhere between $350,000 and $500,000. Our competitors are easily spending five or six times that," he said. "So if we get to a million marketing dollars, we’ll not only catch up with them but we’ll be a legitimate player."

The extra tax revenue would also offset potential problems from the reconstruction of Interstate 81 in downtown Syracuse. Liedke said competing communities are already planning marketing strategies to lure any tourists concerned about a massive road construction project.

"The message out there is you’ll not be able to navigate Syracuse, it’ll be gridlock everywhere because of the construction," Liedke said. "We have to combat that."

Local hotel owners also back the idea, noting that the market is flat right now, and they need help drawing more visitors to town. State approval is needed in order for the county to raise the occupancy tax, and county lawmakers have agreed to ask for that.

Onondaga County Legislature Chairman Dave Knapp said once that happens, then a clear plan for using the extra funds will have to be approved.

"Assuming it’s approved by the legislature and the governor, it will come back to us then we pass a local law that will specify how it will be spent," Knapp said.

The Town of Dewitt is asking that part of it help fund expansion of Carrier Park, which hosts a number of sporting events.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.