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Auburn City Council goes back to the drawing board after hotel tax denied: How will the shortfall be covered?

  • / Updated:
  • Josh Durso 

Auburn Mayor Jimmy Giannettino said he was disappointed when the city was ultimately denied its opportunity to move forward with a hotel tax.

Now, City Council will be tasked with amending its budget after Assemblyman John Lemondes opposed the 5% tax, which would’ve brought in at least $250,000.

“I guess the word I’d use to describe is ‘disappointed’,” Giannettino said in a recent appearance on Inside the FLX. “This is not something new and specific to Auburn. It’s something that cities across the state are doing because the cost of providing basic essential services to folks continues to increase.” Among communities around Auburn who have implemented a hyper-local bed tax are Weedsport and Skaneateles. Both of which were supported by Assemblyman Lemondes in recent years. “We followed the lead of other municipalities, specifically, those that are close to us and asked our Assembly person to support it.”

While it initially appeared as though Lemondes would support the effort when the concept was introduced in September 2023 – things changed in the last two months. For his part, Lemondes said he had concerns about increased costs and deterring tourists from visiting Auburn.

The entire situation came as a surprise to Giannettino, who said Lemondes office didn’t communicate with the City directly about the decision. Instead, the Mayor said he found out the hotel tax would not go forward the same way many others did: From the local newspaper.

“It’s strange and disappointing,” Giannettino continued. “It was surprising not only the fact that the request wasn’t granted, but a surprise in the sense that he didn’t even communicate with my office. His office put out a press release to The Citizen, the local newspaper here in Auburn, and Robert Harding called me and he broke the news to me. So, disappointing in that aspect to the Assemblyman, doesn’t feel that, he can communicate with my office on a decision of that magnitude.”

Giannettino said City Council has always had a solid relationship with state representatives. Prior to being elected mayor this past fall – Giannettino spent two terms on City Council. “We’ve always had a very good relationship here in Auburn with our legislative delegation in Albany, whether they’re Republicans or Democrats.” He had high-praise for Republican Assemblyman Gary Finch, who he called the “ultimate champion for Auburn.” He went on to call the decision to deny Auburn a hotel tax, while supporting Weedsport and Skaneateles’ efforts ‘hypocritical’.

As City Council moves on, Giannettino says difficult decisions are ahead. While Lemondes suggested that the City look at sharing sales tax that’s collected by Cayuga County, that option has already been proven untenable. “The intention of this request was to provide direct property tax relief to homeowners here in the city and help offset the budget gap of providing essential services like street repairs, police and fire response, as well as the total cost of tourism that visitors don’t pay for. They’re using services here in town and why should the people of Auburn have to pay for that alone?”

While the dollar amount that needs to be addressed in the short-term by City Council is $250,000 – Giannettino expects that it’s closer to $500,000. The $250,000 figure was derived from a 6-month implementation of a hotel tax in its inaugural year. Now that it won’t go forward, the long-term reality is that next year, the City will have to find $500,000 to cover a potentially larger gap created by this denial.