A year in review: Sullivan edition

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 12/28/21

SULLIVAN COUNTY — In Sullivan County and across the globe, 2021’s biggest story—the “elephant in the room” for every 2021 conversation—was the COVID-19 …

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A year in review: Sullivan edition

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SULLIVAN COUNTY — In Sullivan County and across the globe, 2021’s biggest story—the “elephant in the room” for every 2021 conversation—was the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sullivan County started the year with 57 COVID deaths and 237 active cases (figures accurate as of Monday, January 4). By the year’s end, another 44 people had died, and the county hit a record high of 647 active cases (figures accurate as of Thursday, December 23).

Vaccines were rolled out throughout the year, with early doses going to frontline health care workers and those in long-term care. Booster shots followed later in the year, and Sullivan County Public Health Services held vaccine clinics for the public. But by the year’s end, a quarter of Sullivan’s 18-and-up population had not yet started on a course of vaccination.

While life may not have returned to a pre-pandemic normal—and it shows no signs of doing so any time soon—life did, somehow, go on. Here’s a look at what happened in Sullivan County.

The Care Center at Sunset Lake

The big story from the Sullivan County Legislature in 2021 was the management of the Care Center at Sunset Lake.

The Sunset Lake Local Development Corporation (LDC) assumed ownership of the center on December 4, 2020, after months of discussion. In January, the LDC sent the legislature its recommendations for a management company to operate the facility.

Infinite Care, a Brooklyn based management company, was chosen by the legislature on February 11. The county and Infinite Care took until September to sign an operating agreement, signifying that Infinite Care would act as consultant for the care center for at least the next 20 years.

In the shuffle, the care center lost the tax-exempt status it had held in the Town of Liberty, and the town began assessing taxes. According to a county press release, Infinite Care agreed to pay $226,000 in school taxes due in 2021.

Infinite preference

The truth in the story

Care center contract soon to be signed

Legislators Joe Perrello, left, Nadia Rajsz, Ira Steingart and Luis Alvarez hold an April 26 press conference to explain why chairman Rob Doherty needs to step down.
Legislators Joe Perrello, left, Nadia Rajsz, Ira Steingart and Luis Alvarez hold an April 26 press conference to explain why chairman Rob Doherty …

Legislative scandal

The care center’s tax exempt status led to some scandal late in the year.

On November 2, legislative chair Robert Doherty, county attorney Michael McGuire and two other county employees appeared reportedly uninvited before the Liberty Board of Assessment Review to challenge the omit taxes levied on the care center for January of 2021. Eyewitness accounts reported that the county delegation presented itself in an insulting and intimidating manner.

The incident continued a pattern of legislative controversy that occurred throughout 2021.

An ethic complaint against legislator Luis Alvarez, alleging that he had intimidated representatives of the care center over improper care secured by his wife, resolved in January with the legislature voting not to sanction him. Former Health and Family Services commissioner Stephanie Brown, the employee who made the complaint against Alvarez, won unemployment benefits from the New York Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board in May, with the court ruling there was credible reason for her to leave her employment after the legislature declined to act on her complaint.

The legislature also faced issues of public access and legislative procedure. A notable incident occurred on April 23, when legislator Nadia Rajsz had issues connecting via video conference and was denied the opportunity to vote by phone.

Anger Management

Lawmaking, pandemic version

Validation

Care center taxation challenged

ARPA funding

With the pandemic still ongoing, Sullivan County received $7.3 million dollars in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act in 2021, and will receive another $7.3 million in 2022.

The legislature held discussions on how to spend the money throughout the year, with public comment strongly in support of premium pay for essential workers or for other healthcare items. The legislature ultimately split the funding between county roadwork and a SUNY Sullivan capital project.

What to do with $14.6 million?

An ARPA update

A crowd gathers before the November Tusten town board meeting to talk for and against cannabis in the community.
A crowd gathers before the November Tusten town board meeting to talk for and against cannabis in the community.

Cannabis

On the local level, towns across Sullivan County grappled throughout the year with questions of cannabis.

A statewide law was passed March 31 legalizing recreational adult-use cannabis. While most aspects of the law applied uniformly across the state, it gave local municipalities the option to opt out of the licensing program for dispensaries and smoking lounges.

Lumberland and Callicoon opted out of both dispensaries and smoking lounges early in the process; Cochecton took more time for discussion, but ultimately decided likewise.

Tusten passed local laws opting out of both dispensaries and lounges in November, but will hold a referendum during 2022’s general election to decide whether they will stand. Highland chose not to opt out of dispensaries, but to opt out of smoking lounges.

Lumberland, Callicoon take cautious approach to cannabis legalization

Cannabis and the community in Tusten

Let the people decide: Tusten gears up for a cannabis referendum

Getting into the business of marijuana

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