Care center taxation challenged

Doherty, McGuire face allegations of misconduct, calls to resign

By LIAM MAYO and ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 11/12/21

MONTICELLO, NY — Sullivan County's handling of the Care Center at Sunset Lake has once again come under fire, with allegations of misconduct against legislative chair Rob Doherty, county …

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Care center taxation challenged

Doherty, McGuire face allegations of misconduct, calls to resign

Photo contributed from the Sullivan County website
Posted

MONTICELLO, NY — Sullivan County's handling of the Care Center at Sunset Lake has once again come under fire, with allegations of misconduct against legislative chair Rob Doherty, county attorney Mike McGuire and two other county employees.

The care center's tax status took center stage in this latest dispute. 

The county transferred the deed to the care center in December of 2020 to the Sunset Lake Local Development Corporation (LDC), a private, non-profit entity founded by the county. This was followed by the LDC engaging Infinite Care as an operating consultant for the care center, transferring the burden of the center's management off the county's shoulders, though Sullivan County remains the employer of record, and workers continue to receive county benefits. 

With the care center property now owned by the LDC, it lost its tax exempt status under the Town of Liberty's tax code. According to the New York State Comptroller's website, "The income and operations of LDCs are exempt from taxation. Real property owned by an LDC may also be exempt from taxation, but only if the property is used for an exempt purpose."

Article 133 of Liberty's code states that property owned by a non-profit used as a hospital can be exempt from taxation, but property used for an infirmary is taxable; the care center is listed as an infirmary in Liberty's tax assessment. 

The county seemingly came to terms with Infinite Care over the issue, according to a statement released Tuesday, September 28. The statement indicates that Infinite Care agreed to pay the $226,000 in taxes levied on the care center, reimbursing the LDC for the taxes for the period from September 20, 2021 to June 30, 2022, and will continue to pay taxes on the property going forward. 

"It's a win-win," said Doherty, in a statement in that press release. "County taxpayers won't be on the hook for this, and the Liberty Central School District will have an unexpected $226,000 more to educate our children."

The agenda for the LDC's Friday, November 5 meeting includes a resolution stating that Infinite Care is responsible for taxes on the property from October 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022. The resolution also states that the LDC had to pay $63,681.82 in taxes on the property for the period from July 1 to September 30, 2021. 

While the county came to this agreement, Doherty, McGuire, county attorney Robert Frehill and assistant county manager Michelle Huck (who also serves on the LDC's board) appeared reportedly uninvited at a Tuesday, November 2 meeting of the Liberty Board of Assessment Review to challenge the town's omit taxes levied for January of 2021. 

Eyewitness accounts from Town of Liberty assessor Vanessa Kelder and other members of the board report that the county delegation presented itself in an unbecoming manner. The accounts indicate that McGuire "demanded" in an "intimidating" fashion that Kelder write a letter waiving the county's January 2021 Omit bill, with board member Diane Silver stating that "He spoke in a condescending, disrespectful and demeaning manner in order to bully Vanessa [Kelder] into doing what he wanted."

Kelder also alleged that Doherty insulted her as he entered the meeting, stating his status as a legislator and using a pejorative typically aimed towards women—the same pejorative Doherty accused fellow legislator Luis Alvarez of using earlier in the year. 

McGuire, Doherty and the others reportedly left a little over an hour after arriving.

"I was humiliated by how I was treated by the County Attorney and was made extremely uncomfortable and felt intimidated by Michelle Huck, Robert Freehill and Mr. Doherty," wrote Kelder. 

Public—and legislative—comments

Several days after the meeting, on Friday, November 5, Liberty supervisor Frank DeMayo delivered a letter to the Sullivan County Government Center, describing the events that had occurred and providing the county with eyewitness accounts.  (See "Attachments," above, for a link to the letter.)

That letter, and the allegations of conduct contained within, made its way to the Tuesday, November 9 meeting of the legislature's committee on parks, agriculture and sustainability, run by Alvarez, and to the committee on health and family services, run by Nadia Rajsz. 

DeMayo appeared and said that the county had had plenty of opportunities to grieve the care center's tax exempt status, and had not taken any of them. "I will stand by our people in the town of Liberty," he said. 

Other public commenters focused on Doherty's alleged insult of Kestin, calling it an "insult of shocking proportions" and calling for Doherty to step down, a point driven home by a majority of commenters and several legislators. 

"How does anyone behave this way and expect that this is to be condoned?" asked Rajsz. She called twice for a vote-of-no-confidence on Doherty as chairman; no action was taken either time. 

This is a developing story. 

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