Legislators discuss using occupancy tax funds to benefit Keuka Outlet Trail

Gwen Chamberlain
The Keuka Outlet Trail follows the abandoned rail bed where Fall Brook Railroad traveled between Dresden and Penn Yan.

Yates County legislators are discussing how the county can support the operations of the Keuka Outlet Trail outside the village of Penn Yan.

At the March 6 Public Works committee, District 1 Legislator Taylor Fitch explained one of his goals is to find a way for his focus on economic development to benefit the non-profit organization that owns the trail.

Noting that the development of tourism in Yates County has brought money in the form of occupancy tax revenues, Fitch said, “I see the Outlet as a tourism attraction, but it has not come to its full potential.”

Fitch’s original idea was to see if county workers and equipment could be used to help the Friends of the Outlet maintain or improve the trail, but County Attorney Scott Falvey has advised that the county resources cannot work on private property.

So Monday, Fitch asked legislators for their support to seek a portion of the county’s occupancy tax revenues to help pay for major projects on the trail.

Peg Thompson, president of the Friends of the Outlet, and Carol Worth, a board member, told legislators about the progress that’s been made recently. “The only glitch in our progress is money. We don’t have the cash for some of the projects,” said Thompson, who noted that members and supporters have been “wonderfully supportive,” but there are not funds for some big projects.

She said some trail areas need re-surfacing because there are ruts, rough areas and erosion. She also noted that large snags of debris have created conditions for erosion to damage the banks of the waterway. She said another flood like those in 2014 could result in severe damage.

“We would be thrilled to partner with Yates County,” said Worth. “We are providing a tourism destination. Let’s give them something a little more attractive — a little safer.”

Worth described some of the potential improvements that could be completed with additional funds. A project to repair erosion damage in two locations was recently completed through a partnership between the County Soil & Water Districts in three counties, with help from the Town of Milo. That project cost over $150,000.

Fitch said he would like to see the legislature support an annual funding stream supported by the occupancy tax. He said a first-time payment of $30,000 could come from the existing tourism reserve which has a balance of $40,000. In subsequent years, funds could come from the portion of the tax revenue earmarked for tourism, he said.

The law that established the tax in 2007 states that the revenues from the tax will be equally divided for the purpose of Yates County tourism and the general fund after an administrative fee is retained by the county.

The portion of tax revenues earmarked for tourism is distributed to organizations and events under the direction of the Tourism Advisory Committee. The county’s 2017 budget includes $266,000 to distribute to the TAC. TAC distributed funds to various tourism promotion organizations and activities and a few specific events.

During the Public Works committee meeting, no legislators voiced opposition to supporting the Friends of the Outlet, but some did say they would prefer to see specific plans for projects and long-range plans. The issue was referred to the finance committee for further discussion. That committee met Tuesday evening, after press time.

Friends of the Outlet Inc. was incorporated in November 1989. The Outlet Trail Preservation Area, which preceded the Friends organization, acquired the former rail bed of the Fall Brook Railway from Yates County for $1 after the rail bed had been abandoned by the rail company.

During the Monday meeting, Fitch pointed out that the Yates County Legislature has demonstrated interest in the Outlet Trail through 30 resolutions between 1972 and 1995.