Communities—and event planners—get support

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 3/23/22

MONTICELLO, NY — The Sullivan County Legislature approved its most recent round of discretionary funding at meetings held March 17.

The discretionary funding program allocates a little under …

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Communities—and event planners—get support

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MONTICELLO, NY — The Sullivan County Legislature approved its most recent round of discretionary funding at meetings held March 17.

The discretionary funding program allocates a little under $300,000 annually to community organizations across the county, supporting public safety and health, youth services and economic development, among other objectives.

This year’s dispensation of funding gives a total of $273,380 to 16 organizations.

The largest single award went to Sullivan County Head Start, which received $70,000 to promote the school-readiness of low-income children under age five. Other organizations that received funding for youth programs include People in Mind of NY, which provides youth mentorship and life-skills training, and the Town of Wallkill Boys and Girls Club, which will use its funding to supplement the Liberty Elementary School after-school program.

A number of cultural organizations also received discretionary funding, including the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway and the Delaware Company. The Delaware Valley Arts Alliance received the largest award of the bunch, netting $40,000 to support its work as Sullivan County’s arts council and its administration of re-grants of state and county funds to community organizations.

For a full list of awardees, visit bit.ly/discretionary-funding.

Tourism funding

During the legislature’s executive committee meeting, it turned its attention to a much larger pot of money: the funds brought in through Sullivan County’s room tax.

Sullivan County collects a five percent room tax every time a room gets rented within its borders. It has a contractual obligation to spend 85 percent of that money on promoting tourism activities, with the lion’s share going to the Sullivan County Visitors’ Association (SCVA); the rest can go toward administration of the tax.

The booming tourist economy of Sullivan County has resulted in significantly increased takings from the room tax.

The county’s 2022 budget anticipated $2 million in funding from the room tax, already a slight increase over the 2021 budget, although that is down slightly from its pre-pandemic peak. According to the county’s 2021 annual report, actual receipts for 2021 vastly exceeded expectations, with a total of $2.9 million through November and with December still to go; the report estimates the county’s final takings to be around $3.2 million.

A shift in county regulations helped bring about this surplus. The county amended the room tax law on March 18, closing loopholes and ensuring that the operators of short-term rentals such as Airbnbs and VRBOs paid their share of the room tax. But the numbers also reflect more people staying in the county, contributing to Sullivan County’s 31-percent increase in sales tax collections in 2021—the biggest year-over-year increase in the state, according to a report from the state comptroller’s office.

“Tourism is absolutely growing in this county,” legislative chair Robert Doherty said at the March 14 executive committee meeting. “And I think that we need to continue the growth of it.”

During the meeting, Doherty and county manager Josh Potosek unveiled a plan to do just that.

The plan would create the Tourism Sector Enhancement Grant program, funded by the room tax left over after the SCVA takes its share. Applications would pass through the division of planning and community development to a specially appointed committee, which would review the applications and send its recommendations to the legislature.

As drafted, the plan for the program targeted three areas for grant spending: general-purpose marketing, event planning and tourist-focused capital projects.

Legislators focused their attention during discussions on the potential for event funding.

The county needed more two- and three-day events, said Doherty, to get people staying overnight in the county’s rooms. “If you want a bed tax, which fuels tourism, you need to have multiple-day events, and that’s the key behind growing the county.”

Legislator Joe Perrello agreed that funding should focus on events. He was opposed to the idea that funding could support capital projects; “This money is generated by room tax, so it should go back into [projects] that could accumulate more room tax.”

The legislature appeared, on the whole, supportive of the idea, and agreed to continue discussion at the following Tuesday’s workshop meeting.

Raises for social workers and a home for the homeless

A resolution to increase the salaries of social workers was passed by the legislature at its March 14 meeting.

Division of Health and Family Services commissioner John Liddle had appeared before the legislature the previous week describing the plight of the Department of Community Services and explaining that it struggled to attract social workers as the county was at the bottom in the state in terms of its pay rates.

The resolution addressed that concern, stating that “there is a need to increase the salaries of the social worker positions to allow the county to maintain the services provided through Community Services.”

The salary for the Staff Social Worker I position went from $55,473 (as set in the 2022 budget) to $57,786, and that for Staff Social Worker II went from $57,786 to $60,675. The salaries for the Assistant Social Worker I, II and III positions were set at $43,129, $46,213 and $49,299 respectively, and the salaries for the Supervising Social Worker and the Clinical Program Manager positions were set at $61,645 and $66,274 respectively.

The legislature also approved a contract with the Knight’s Inn in Liberty. It provided $801,000 for the rental of 30 rooms at the inn from January to December 2022, to house the county’s homeless population.

The contract would save the county around $40,000 over the year. In addition, the county would have office space at the inn for case management, explained Liddle, to help the homeless navigate such processes as DMV, and rental and food stamp applications.

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