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October 25, 2016
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Apollo plaza project moves forward; bed tax also considered

The Sullivan county Legislature on March 13 decided to move forward with the project at the Apollo Mall, and will eventually sell the land to Chancelor Livingston who will try to work out a deal to lure a big-box store to the site.

The background

When the new group of legislators came into office this year, they inherited the previous legislature’s vision of develping the property on East Broadway in Monticello, which has become increasingly valuable because of the new exit ramp that is being built on Route 17.

The newly elected members of the legislature temporarily blocked forward momentum of the project until they better understood the reason for transferring the county-owned property to the Sullivan County Funding Corporation.

At a meeting at the government center on March 8, bond lawyer Sean Griffin explained that the funding corporation is the same thing as a Local Development Corporation (LDC), and there are good reasons to use an LDC in attempting to achieve a specific outcome with a county-owned property.

He said, “New York State allows a transfer of municipal land, normally very rigid under county law section 215, but under the not-for-profit corporation law, in the section about how to form a local development corporation, it has express authority, allowing legislative bodies such as this, on 10-days notice and a public hearing, at any price they decide, any terms they decide, to just transfer it.” He added, “If you try and transfer it under normal county law, you’re going to get a blind bid; somebody’s going to walk in and grab it.”

But there were still questions. Legislator Cora Edwards said, “If the title and deed of what is currently county-owned property is transferred to the funding corporation—and I’m still trying to find out who the corporation is accountable to—who actually has ownership of that property?”

Griffin said the county manager appoints the members of the funding corporation or LDC board. He said that the land would be transferred to the LCD by resolution of the legislature, and the legislature is free to include any terms they desire, but “if you put too many terms nobody’s going to buy it.”

After the property is transferred, the LDC can then enter into negotiations with a business in an attempt to attract a big box store and other businesses to the site.

Edwards said she would wait to see the language of the resolution before she decides whether she will vote in favor of transferring the land, part of which was purchased with a $3 million bond that will continue to be paid off by taxpayers for years to come.

Local match for tourism

In the same meeting, the Sullivan County Visitors Association (SCVA) presented a detailed account of their budget and spending, which had been requested by several legislators. One topic that received a good deal of discussion was the matching funds program for local advertising for tourism businesses.

For the past two years, the program was funded by the 15% of the bed tax that the county can withhold from SCVA if it desires to do so. Legislator Jonathan Rouis said before the program began some people in the county questioned why all of the advertising was done outside of the county in places like New York City and elsewhere. The local match program was a way for local businesses to promote themselves locally, with a 50% match by the SCVA, in local media outlets including The River Reporter.

Legislator Kitty Vetter said she appreciated the local match program because it helped organizations, such as the Livingston Manor Chamber of Commerce and the Shandalee Music Festival, get the word out about their events at a reduced advertising rate.

Lawmaker Cindy Geiger said she had questions about the way the money is distributed.

Legislator Gene Benson had similar concerns. He said the benefit should not just go to the 300 or so businesses that are members of SCVA. He said, “It should be for everybody. Once the tax is collected it becomes taxpayer money; spread the wealth.”

Paul Carlucci, vice president of Villa Roma Hotel and Resort, which pays more bed tax than any other business in the county, said, “Of the 300 members of the SCVA, I would say maybe 10% collect bed tax, so it already is spread pretty well.”

It’s not yet clear if the legislature will grant the SCVA the funds for the local match program for the coming season.