CONWAY — After trying to find out how many short-term rentals are paying rooms and meals taxes but being shrugged off by the state Department of Revenue Administration, the town of Conway will be filing a Right to Know request seeking that data.
At Tuesday’s selectmen’s meeting, Town Manager Tom Holmes said that based on the data available, it appears that many short-term-rental owners could be skirting the 9 percent state rooms and meals tax. He said he’s asked DRA about that.
In a letter to DRA dated Dec. 19, Holmes said online information from the state suggests about 320 Conway businesses are paying the tax, and that includes all hotels and restaurants in town.
Meanwhile, he said, there are several hundred short-term rentals in town, if not as many as 1,000.
“It has become a crisis in our community, and we could use some help,” Holmes’ letter concludes.
Some have said that if short-term-rental property owners are not paying the tax, that gives them an unfair advantage over traditional lodging establishments. A portion of the money collected goes back to municipalities.
Holmes wanted to know if Airbnb identifies the properties that are paying the state, and if there is such a list. He also asked how the state could tell whether someone operating a short-term rental is paying or not.
He told the DRA that a list of short-term rentals would be helpful to the town’s effort to inventory how many such rentals exist in town.
DRA’s Assistant Revenue Counsel Derek Kline responded in a letter that said: “The Department has reviewed your request and cannot provide you with the information for the following reasons: 1. Your request does not seek governmental records reasonably described; 2. Your request appears to pose questions, and RSA 91-A does not require the Department to answer questions; and 3. The requested information from Airbnb is confidential taxpayer information and cannot be produced under RSA 21-J:14.”
In sharing the DRA’s response with selectmen Tuesday, Holmes said he disagreed with the response and asked selectmen if they wanted him to pursue it.
Selectman Carl Thibodeau asked why the list of taxpaying restaurants was published to the state website but the list of short-term rentals was confidential. “What is the difference between short-term rentals and restaurants or hotels or anybody else who pays rooms and meals tax?” he asked.
Holmes replied that DRA won’t even confirm whether it keeps a list or not.
“I’m baffled as to why we can’t get the information,” replied Thibodeau.
Holmes said he would get legal help to draft a 91-A Right to Know letter, and selectmen voted 5-0 to authorize Holmes to draft a DRA request to DRA.
Later in the meeting, selectmen also agreed to form a new committee to look into zoning proposals on short-term rentals to be presented to voters in April of next year. The committee also would help with the hoped-for short-term rental inventory.
The committee will consist of one selectman and one planning board member, a short-term rental property owner, a Realtor, two members of the public who abut a short-term rental property and a fire chief (there are five chiefs in Conway).
Anyone interested in joining the committee may email executive secretary Krista Day at firstname.lastname@example.org. The mailing address for selectmen is: 1634 East Main St., Center Conway, NH 03813.