County legislature picks Visitors Association
The organization that has been responsible for promoting tourism in Sullivan County for the past decade will retain that responsibility at least through 2013. The legislature voted seven to two to award the contract to the Sullivan County Visitors Association (SCVA) rather than the new company that sought to fill the role, Sullivan County Tourism and Promotion (SCTP).
Along with the contract comes about $476, 000 in revenue from the county bed tax. In a lengthy presentation before the vote, Roberta Lockwood, president of SCVA, said she expected the organization's total income for 2013 would be about $1.1 million, because she could leverage the bed-tax revenue to bring in additional funds from outside sources.
Richard Altman, CEO of SCTP, told reporters the figure he had given the legislature for total income was $650,000. Lawmaker Alan Sorensen expressed concern that because SCTP was a new organization and had no track record that it might be difficult for it to secure grant money from Albany and elsewhere.
Another big difference between the two organizations involved the issue of membership. SCVA has about 300 members who pay dues averaging about $100 per year, and member votes determine the make-up of the board of directors. Altman said that if his organization won the contract, it would have no members.
Lawmaker Gene Benson expressed support for this model because he said the organization who promotes tourism for the county should work for all of the people, not just the members of the organization. That prompted a response from Terri Ward, president and CEO of the Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce, which is a membership organization, who said, “Everything that we do benefits all the businesses in the county, and you can’t punish an organization for wanting to bring in extra money from volunteers who are willing to support them because they’re doing a good job.”
About a dozen members of SCVA spoke during public comment about the benefits of SCVA, including potter Carolyn Duke, who explained in 2003 about 10 local potters went to SCVA and created the pottery trail map. She said, “SCVA helped us learn how to market our business and how to extend ourselves out into the county and out into the state.”
It was unclear if SCTP had won the contract the organization would have kept the program that creates such things as the antiques trail map and the yearly literature exchange many of the tourism businesses in the county. When discussing the future of tourism, Altman said the second-homeowner market and agri-tourism were important, and he added that the second vote of the legislature regarding the legalization of gambling in the state was also important because that could lead to casinos coming to the county.
Before the vote, Benson said he could not support SCVA because “I still haven’t gotten answers to all my questions, and I don’t think we should be dictated to by 25 or 30 people as to how we should run our tourism or as to how we should run anything.”
Lawmaker Kathy LaBuda said she thought the request for proposal process was a good one, and that contracts with all of the outside agencies would be scrutinized because of the economic conditions in county, in which a double-digit tax increase is likely coming.
Scott Samuelson, the chair of the legislature, said that he still had concerns with SCVA, but that after seeing presentations from both organizations, SCVA was the better choice for the county.