Ulster County officials disagree over short-term rental tax information – Daily Freeman

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KINGSTON, NY – Efforts to hold the Ulster County government accountable for collecting bed tax have turned into a public information dispute between County Comptroller March Gallagher and the County Finance Commissioner Burt Gulnick on the definition of a short-term taxpayer.

The relationship soured last year when Gallagher provided Republican county lawmakers with the total amount of bed tax paid by Airbnb-based short-term rental owners and Gulnick considered it to be a violation of laws prohibiting the provision of information about individual owners.

“I only provided gross revenue and first payment (amount) from Airbnb,” Gallagher said.

Gulnick and Gallagher, in separate interviews, agreed that the May 13, 2021 session did not include any information on individual amounts paid by owners of short-term rental owners. They also both acknowledged that Airbnb served as a collection agency and did not own the properties on which the tax was collected under a voluntary collection agreement.

However, Gulnick said even the total figure collected through Airbnb should be hidden from the public.

“They are a third party,” he said. “They come under the same reasoning… It’s the law. It’s not our disagreement, it’s the law.

Gulnick in February 2020 had provided information regarding individual short-term lease payments to Gallagher and demanded that she sign a confidentiality agreement that said “the taxpayer’s business” and “identification of particular statements” would be kept “secret”. However, the information provided to the county legislature was for an amount submitted by Airbnb just over a year later and was provided without a second confidentiality agreement, and the information did not cover details of individual owners.

Gulnick said state law considers the amount Airbnb collects on behalf of the county the same as a business paying its own share of taxes, and therefore it would be considered a “return” that should be kept secret.

“If you go into the county’s financial system and look at the total occupancy tax, there’s no distinction between what comes from Airbnb and what comes from Joe Smith Bed and Breakfast,” he said. he declares.

Gulnick raised his concerns with County Attorney Clinton Johnson, who in a May 21, 2021 letter wrote that Gallagher could be fined $10,000 for disclosing the information. However, he also used language that the fault was based on “occupancy tax paid by AirBnB” instead of noting that the law covered individual landlords and not a collection agency. He also did not note that the figures were for a period not covered by the confidentiality agreement.

Gallagher wrote in response that Airbnb does not file returns with Ulster County and its role is not defined in the county’s occupancy tax law.

“Revenue collected through Airbnb does not provide ‘information relating to a taxpayer’s activity’ because (the collection agreement) consolidates payments from more than 1,500 properties into a single transaction and the spirit of protection individual confidential business information is respected.”

Airbnb seems to recognize the difference between doing their homework and being a true short-term rental owner. In the county agreement dated October 21, 2020, Airbnb acknowledges that the collections were not made for the taxes it owed but rather “on behalf of certain hosts” and that the amounts paid to the county did not come from the service in line itself.

“Airbnb assumes no liability for a registered host’s failure to comply with any applicable collection, reporting, or remittance obligations related to taxable reservation transactions,” they wrote. “Further, Airbnb assumes no responsibility for collection based on information provided by the registered host.”

Friction between Gulnick and Gallagher has continued to affect ongoing efforts to have the county develop plans that would address the shortage of affordable housing for working families. Among the disputes was an email exchange last month where Gallagher asked Gulnick for information on the number of short-term rentals, and after not receiving a response for two weeks, she made the request with a little more tense tone.

“How do you advise me to proceed? ” she wrote. “Full audit of contracts with municipalities? Summons? It looks like this can be resolved without a lot of onerous work for Finance (Ministry staff) but if I continue to get no response I will have no choice but to move forward with a follow up formal.

State Committee on Open Government Kristen O’Neill said laws covering individual occupation tax returns would not be part of the state’s Freedom of Information law. She added that it was unclear what information should be available as part of an agreement for large-scale tax collections that do not identify actual taxpayers.

“Two private parties or even a party that is a government agency cannot negotiate the right of the public under freedom of information law,” she said.

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