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Tourism CEO explains where the money goes

By Fritz Mayer
December 7, 2011

A law championed by State Senator John Bonacic dictates that at least 85% of revenues raised from county room taxes go toward the promotion of tourism in the county. Last year, the Sullivan County Legislature decided to grant the entire 100% of the revenues to the Sullivan County Visitors Association (SCVA), believing that it would provide a good return on investment.

At a meeting regarding the proposed budget for 2012 at the government center on December 1, county treasurer Ira Cohen noted that 15% could be going to his office as an administration fee. He said in a subsequent phone conversation that he didn’t necessarily believe that the SCVA should not receive 100% of the tax.

In any case, at the annual dinner of the SCVA at Mr. Willy’s Restaurant in Monticello later on December 1, Roberta Byron-Lockwood, president and CEO of the organization, laid out a detailed account of how the 15%, which in 2011 turned out to be about $90,000, was used.

She said the county legislators mandated that the money be
spent locally. She said SCVA worked out a program with local newspapers and radio stations, whereby local businesses could get advertising at lower rates because of matching funds from SCVA. Byron-Lockwood said, “In 2011, that $90,000 turned into $250,000 that went into our local economy, and with value added from the newspapers and radio stations that turned into a $350,000 investment in our own backyard.” She said it was a good investment that encouraged people to spend money in the county.

Also at the meeting, Paul Carlucci, SCVA board president, said tourism continues to be an economic generator in the county. He said, “Visitors spent $345 million in the county [in 2010], generated $22 million in local sales tax and $22 million in state sales tax, representing a 10.7% increase over the previous year.”

County manager David Fanslau compared the county to Lancaster County, PA, which has in recent years become a successful tourism brand. He said, “They have farms, we have farms. We need to grow our agro-tourism and SCVA is working on that. They have shopping, we are working on shopping. They don’t have Bethel Woods, they don’t have the Forestburgh Playhouse, and they don’t have many of the unique businesses that sell things in Sullivan County.”

He added, “The Sullivan County Catskills can become as much a brand as Lancaster County, PA.