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Genesee County manager: Mandated testing of county employees is coming; who is going to pay for it?

By Mike Pettinella

Vaccine mandates are one thing; testing requirements are another.

Concerning the latter, Genesee County Manager Matt Landers is advising Genesee County legislators to be prepared to make a decision on how to govern the COVID-19 testing mandate that he believes is coming to municipal employees.

“With recently, the stop-start, stop-start 100-employee mandate out there for testing purposes, I have been meaning to reach out and give an update,” Landers said during today’s legislature meeting at the Old County Courthouse.

Landers said he is operating “under the impression” that there will be a testing requirement for all unvaccinated county employees only, with the big question being who will pay for the testing – the county or the individual employees?

“We are developing procedures to gather that data in a more formal manner. We already have a good handle on that number because our own policy internally has been if you wanted to have your mask off, you had to show proof of vaccination.”

He said more “rigorous steps” are on their way, including the need to have vaccination data available for inspection.

“We’re going through that process right now with HR (Human Resources) and implementing a recommendation in the internal side. This is going to be coming before the legislature for consideration on a policy on how we want to handle this because there's a lot of questions out there,” Landers said.

The county manager said some counties are covering testing and some aren’t. He said he will ask the HR manager’s office and public health department to draft some “solid recommendations” on the implementation before getting back to the legislature.

“I can see the arguments going both ways of us providing the testing, and also us not – and there’s good arguments on both sides,” he said in his comments to lawmakers. “So, be ready for that discussion coming up in a few days.”

In other developments, the legislature passed the following resolutions:

  • Scheduling of a public hearing for 5:30 p.m. Nov. 22 at the Old County Courthouse for citizen input on legislators’ desire to replace the county’s hotel and motel occupancy tax law to include short-term residential lodging sites. The measure had been recommended for approval last week by the legislature’s Ways & Means Committee.

The principal changes reduce the current number of units being rented at a location from six to one and set the number of days at 14 or more over the course of a year.  These revisions would align properties under the auspices of booking companies such as Airbnb and VRBO with hotels and motels and make them subject to the 3 percent occupancy or bed tax.

The new law takes effect on Jan. 1, 2022 and runs through Dec. 31, 2024.

  • An agreement with the City of Batavia to apply for a grant through the Water Infrastructure Investment Act for necessary renovations and repairs at the city’s Water Treatment Plant. The Batavia City Council passed its resolution on Monday night. The WIIA Act grant provides up to 40 percent of capital project costs. The WTP projects are estimated to cost around $3.4 million.
  • Appointment of Chad Brade of Oakfield to fill an unexpired term as county coroner until Dec. 31, 2022, and Chandy Kemp to the board of directors of the Genesee County Economic Development Center.
  • Acceptance of a $176,662.14 grant from the New York State Department of Health for the Genesee County Health Department to promote and increase COVID-19 and other vaccine initiatives, and funding for COVID-19 vaccination clinic operation costs.

Ways & Means approves changes to county bed tax law to include Airbnb, similar short-term lodging sites

By Mike Pettinella

A public hearing regarding Local Law Introductory No. 6, which modifies the Genesee County Hotel and Motel Occupancy Tax Law to include Airbnb-type short-term lodging sites, has been scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Nov. 22 at the Old County Courthouse in Batavia.

The Genesee County Legislature’s Ways & Means Committee on Wednesday voted to set the public hearing as required by Municipal Home Rule Law while approving a resolution to replace the occupancy (or bed tax) law that initially was adopted as Local Law No. 2, Year 1995, and has been amended several times since then.

The current version is set to expire on Dec. 31 of this year.

County Attorney Kevin Earl said the primary changes focus on the number of units and the number of days in which properties are rented. The proposed amendments have been discussed at length by legislators and officials of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce in recent months, 

“Our current law only applies to six or more units," Earl said. "So, we eliminated that threshold to apply to single units. In other words, if somebody rented out their house, it would apply now. But they would have to do it for overnight accommodations and rent it out for more than 14 days in a year.”

Earl said the 14-day provision was put into the wording to exempt a homeowner who may rent his or her house occasionally, such as for a couple days or a week.

The restated law also includes a definition for booking companies, Earl said, notably Airbnb, Flipkey, Home Away, VRBO and Relators. The new law, if approved by the full legislature next week, would take effect on Jan. 1, 2022 and run through Dec. 31, 2024.

The revision certainly will increase the county’s bed tax income as these short-term, home-based properties would be subject to the 3 percent fee that already is added on to hotel/motel bills.

Exemptions to the fee include permanent residents for a period of occupancy in excess of 30 days; persons placed in a hotel or motel by the Department of Social Services, the Red Cross, Salvation Army or other similar organizations due to emergency housing needs; housing for indigent or homeless persons; or exempt organizations.

Earl told legislators that a formal agreement between the county and Airbnb is in the works as the revised law will result in greater responsibility of those renting out homes or similar facilities.

In a related development, the committee approved a resolution brought forth by Kevin Andrews, deputy county treasurer, to use up to $2,250 from the bed tax reserve to fund an audit on the amount of money generated in occupancy tax from local hotels. The Freed Maxick accounting firm has been selected to perform the audit.

Andrews said that, to his knowledge, an audit of this type has not been done before, and that the treasurer’s office will be providing records from three hotels in the county for the audit.

In other action, the Ways & Means Committee approved the following resolutions:

  • An intermunicipal agreement between the county and City of Batavia to the Water Infrastructure Investment Act, which provides up to 40 percent of capital project costs in grants since it is the county’s responsibility to fund and provide for capital improvements at the City Water Treatment Plant.

County Engineer Tim Hens said the total cost of several planned projects at the plant are expected to be around $3.4 million, adding that the improvements are necessary to maintain production as the Countywide Water Project moves into Phase 3. He said the City of Batavia will act as the lead agency in the grant application process.

  • Acquisition by the county of an easement of a parcel of land on the west side of the South Lyon Street bridge in the city in order to keep the replacement of the bridge on schedule. The bridge, which was constructed in 1910, is closed now and due to be replaced in 2022.

Hens said the county previously acquired properties at the four corners of the bridges, and the only easement remaining was an area “through the (Tonawanda) creek bed, along the west side of the bridge.”

He also said that, according to land records, no individual owns the parcel in question.

“So, you’re essentially acquiring an easement from an unknown entity or not an entity at all,” he said. “It’s a very hard thing to describe.”

After discussions with New York State officials, Hens said acquiring the easement – equating it to using eminent domain on an unknown owner -- would be the fastest way to put the county in position to replace the bridge.  

  • The appointment of Chad Brade of Oakfield to fill an unexpired term as county coroner until Dec. 31, 2022.
  • The appointment of Chandy Kemp to the Genesee County Economic Development Center board of directors through June 30, 2024, replacing Amy Vanderhoof, who resigned on Sept. 28.

Previously: Lawmakers continue to ponder whether to impose a bed tax on internet lodging booking agencies

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