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December 03, 2016
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Legislature revises tourism plan

“The resolution came about because the legislators heard the public and they wanted to respond.” That was how lawmaker Ira Steingart, chair of the Community and Economic Development Committee introduced a resolution dealing with the Sullivan County Visitors Association (SVCA) on February 2. The resolution supersedes another resolution passed the previous week, which called for immediately issuing a request for proposals (RFP) from interested nonprofit organizations to promote tourism in the county.

That resolution sparked an uproar from some of the 300 members of the SCVA because of the timing of the RFP, and because of issues related to transparency. The new resolution calls for the county to sign a new contract with SCVA which will run until the end of the year. The county will issue and RFP in August, and a new contract will be awarded either to SCVA or some competing organization at the beginning of the new year.

Over the past 12 years, the SCVA has built up the membership of the organization from 100 to 300 members, and one concern about the proposed RFP was whether the members would automatically sign up with the new nonprofit organization, should the approximately $750,000 in room tax generated be awarded to an organization other than SCVA.

Also, some wondered if issuing an RFP for tourism services every year, with the possibility of changing the organization that promotes tourism every year, was the best way to go. Perhaps because of that, those responding to the RFP in the fall will have the option of submitting a single-year or multi-year plan.

A difference year may be the percentage of the room tax SCVA will receive. State law requires that a nonprofit tourism agency receive at least 85% of the revenues from the room tax to be used to promote tourism. For 2011, the legislature had decided to give SCVA 100% of the revenue because they had determined that provided a good return on investment. But it’s not yet clear if the new legisalture will stay with that policy, or will decide to keep 15% of the revenue, which it is permitted under the law, to pay for “administrative costs.”

After the vote on the new resolution, lawmaker Gene Benson said to the Roberta Byron-Lockwood, president and CEO of SCVA, “I would like to see a copy of SCVA’s expense records, so the taxpayers know where that money is going.”

Byron-Lockwood responded that she would be glad to respond with any records he wanted to see. County manager David Fanslau said SCVA is audited every year, and the audit for 2010, which was received in June of 2011, was available for Benson to review.

According to SCVA figures, visitor spending in the county for 2010, was $345 million, which generated almost $21 million in local taxes and about $21 million in state taxes.

At the end of the meeting, Jill Wiener, a board member of SCVA, thanked the committee for passing the new resolution. The full board will vote on it at the monthly meeting on February 16, and it is expected to pass.