Town Of Webb To Charge New Fee (tax)

Well there's quite a debate raging over the Town of Webb's proposed law to charge a Fee (tax) for any property owner who rents their property out for short-term rentals (read VBRO, AirBNB,, etc.)There seems to be two sides of the argument. Property owners who use their property for short-term rentals, naturally are against this FeeTax. On the other side are local full-time residents (FTR), who appear to be in support of this new law and the associated FeeTax of $800 annually for three bedroom dwellings, more for additional bedrooms.

It is interesting that many of the "local's" or FTR believe this law is going to cure everything from badly behaving renters who leave their garbage out for the bears, to a low and declining school census, to creating affordable housing. That it will cure skyrocketing property values. That it will cure this problem of young couples not being able to find affordable housing. And it will cure this issue of there are no residents to fill the service industry jobs. That it will "save" their town. Um, really?

A long-time local resident described the issues perfectly in a recent Facebook post at "Old Forge Bitch and Moan" when he said:

"I have lived in Old Forge all of my 81 years and It’s never been a ghost town without year round residents. We now have less residents than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. Inability to rent year round have driven young families and children from our community. Inflated selling prices for homes , low school enrollment, lack of workers for our restaurants, lack of volunteers for our emergency services caused by non-residents buying properties in order make a fast buck. If this continues, these short-term rentals will destroy the community, as we know it and the amenities as we know them.

Town of Webb Is Responsible

This is actually a perfect description of what is going on in Old Forge currently, which is a direct result of this Town Board's (and their predecessor’s) single focus on tourism, at the cost, expense the demise of local residents.

However, this situation is not unique to Old Forge. From Vale, CO., to Cape Cod, MA, and everywhere in between, this is what happens when you have a single laser-focused mission to turn your town into a tourism destination.

The current Town Board and their predecessors have done just that. Invite them, they will come. The Town of Webb has expended great energy and money to invite tourists to this town, and continue to do so despite the overcrowding and lack of sufficient accommodations inventory. Yes, this Board and their predecessors invited these people here and as a result, they are responsible for every one of these issues.

However, if you think for one minute this FeeTax is going to solve any of these problems and concerns raised by FTR, you are grossly disillusioned. You are not going to "save" your town - that ship sailed back in the 1950's and it's never coming back.

Do you think for a moment that $800 - which is the equivalent of a 2 or 3-night stay at most rentals - is going to deter a property owner from using their property as a short-term rental? Do you think this FeeTax is going to cause any property owner to sell their property at a loss and magically create a bunch of affordable housing? You have to be kidding me!

This FeeTax will solve nothing, and the Town Board is fully aware of that. But then again, the Town Board is not really trying to solve anything here. Why would they want to limit or curtail a huge chunk of available housing for their precious tourists? This new law will be nothing more than a money grab by the TOW. Like a street corner bookie, they want their vig, they want their piece of the action, a little cream off the top of what is now a wildly popular industry - short term rentals.

Tourism and a healthy town are in direct conflict

Now they want to be rewarded for their lack of foresight and planning. Yes, they have their hand outstretched and ready to grab as much cash as they can and do nothing in return - and certainly not solve any of the issues that local residents raise. Keep in mind that the wants, needs and desires of the tourism trade run juxtaposed to the wants needs and desires of FTR. The two positions are in direct conflict with each other.

For years this Town has been inviting tourists to this town and have been successful enough at that endeavor that current tourism levels exceed current accommodations inventory. They laid in bed with a private business association and intermingled your tax dollars in support of that private organization, apractice is illegal anywhere else in the country.

The Board acts as if they are surprised that there is a booming short-term rental industry in the TOW. They bang their fists "we must do something". They're shocked to the point that they feel the need to play the money-grab game. And the joke is that they are directly responsible for this problem and are only pretending to address the concerns of FTR.

But what do they hope to accomplish by this new law? And what can tax payers expect in exchange. Is there a provision in the law that the Town will inspect every property that pays this FeeTax each year? Have they made provisions to increase the staffing of an already over-burdened Codes office?

Hotels Are Short-Term Rentals

Are they going to apply a fee to the hotels, because let's face it, visitors in a hotel are also short-term renters and cause just as much trouble and exert just as much pressure on local infrastructure as short-term renters in private homes. Are we really going to treat two classes of property owners engaged in the same business differently?

Regarding this issue of no affordable cost accommodations available for the low-income employees who serve the tourism industry the Town is so focused on supporting. We have a group of local owners who got together, formed a “committee”, ( See article Here ) wrote letters and held meetings with town officials encouraging the Town to expend tax dollars to solve this issue for them as well. Frankly, the Town has no business expending tax dollars to build affordable housing. I've got a novel idea; how about you business folks pool your own money and build some affordable housing for your staffing needs. Or how about this novel idea, how about you pay your staff a living wage. It is not the Town's responsibility to solve your business issues. And this is another issue where the Town is ready to expend tax dollars and resources to solve a private business issue. Sorry folks, this is not a taxpayer responsibility.

At this point, we must acknowledge that this Town Board seemingly can't manage anything; can't manage a boat dock; can't manage a parking lot down on North Street; can't manage traffic in town as traffic continues to exceed capacity, backed up in all directions for miles; can't manage a Personal Watercraft law which has previously been challenged in the Courts where the Town successfully defended the law. It's just too hard for them to enforce so they take the path of least work and rescind the law rather than protect property owners and do at least something to protect shoreline erosion. Really, do you trust them to manage this short-term rental situation with any more expertise or efficiency? I hardly doubt it.

Town Of Webb Zoning Laws

The Town already has zoning laws in place. The vast majority of these properties are NOT zoned for commercial use. Why doesn’t the Town of Webb simply get off their ass and enforce current zoning laws. The Town is already scrubbing the various short-term rental web sites to identify homeowners who are advertising their properties as rentals. Why not simply send all of those homeowners a Cease and Desist Letter. Advise them that they are in violation of existing Zoning Laws and to stop immediately. They won't do that because, again, they are not really trying to solve and address the concerts of FTR. And, of course, doing so will hurt their precious tourism trade. My God, where would all the people we have actively invited here sleep? And of course, there is no money in that for the Town.

Regardless of which side of the issue you are on, the next time you are standing in the voting booth, make your feelings known with your vote.