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More funds for Sullivan tourism; close vote tied to budget concerns

By Fritz Mayer
April 25, 2012

The Sullivan County Legislature voted five to three with one abstention in favor of granting an additional 7.5%of the county bed tax to the Sullivan County Visitors Association (SCVA), on top of the 85% of the bed tax already guaranteed to them by law, to pay for a local matching grants advertising program. The program, which was funded with 15% of the bed tax last year, subsidized tourism-related businesses in the county with money to advertise in local media outlets, including The River Reporter.

The vote came during a day in which the lawmakers were given a presentation about the county’s revenues so far this year, as county officials begin the process of preparing next year’s budget, which will likely be even more challenging than the budget for last year. The vote also came two months after the legislature considered not renewing the contract with the SCVA, and instead putting out to bid the operation of tourism promotion in the county to any interested and qualified parties.

At the meeting at the government center on April 19, legislator Gene Benson, who has been the harshest critic of the SCVA, said he could not vote for the resolution because staff of the SCVA had not answered all of his questions regarding the organization’s performance.

Legislator Ira Steingart said he supported the resolution because, “I realize how important the local tourism industry is. This money would be spent with local businesses and it would help local businesses.”

Legislator Cora Edwards echoed Benson’s concern. She said, “What’s the return on the investment? So far, nobody has been able to say the multiplier effect will bring us, for instance, $4 million in additional sales tax revenue.”

Legislator Kitty Vetter said, “The tourist business is our face in this county, and I think those are dollars well spent. If we give it back to the Sullivan County Visitors Association, we are improving the ability of the small businesses to get their ads and information out there.”