In accordance with the Sullivan County Hotel and Motel Occupancy Tax Law, the county retains 15 percent of the revenues resulting from the imposition of the “room tax” to defer the …
In accordance with the Sullivan County Hotel and Motel Occupancy Tax Law, the county retains 15 percent of the revenues resulting from the imposition of the “room tax” to defer the necessary expenses of the county in administering the tax and the remaining 85 percent is allocated and paid to a not-for-profit corporation under contract with the county for the promotion of tourism in the county.
Since 1997, the county has contracted with the Sullivan County Visitor’s Association (SVCA) to promote tourism and allocated 85 percent of its collected room tax to the SCVA. In years past, when the room tax collection was very modest, this allocation made sense. But times have changed.
The county’s allocation to the SCVA has gone from $575,000 in 2017 to $1,595,000 in 2020, which raises the question as to whether the time has come to revisit the long-standing allocation of the county’s room tax. I think that time has come, and with it, the need to renegotiate the SCVA contract with the county.
It is important to note that the SCVA and its members have done a fine job promoting the Sullivan County Catskills as a premier tourism destination. However, that does not mean that we should continue to allocate 85 percent of the room tax solely to the SCVA.
It wasn’t that long ago that residents rejected a plan by the SCVA to construct a $4.5 million visitor’s center in Rock Hill. Spoiler alert, I reluctantly voted in favor of that proposal in October of 2019, and boy did I get an earful from constituents who were opposed to that project. In early 2020, I later voted to rescind the resolution for the visitor’s center. Lesson learned.
With the exponential growth in room tax revenue, we have the funding necessary to promote the county through the SCVA and invest in our tourism infrastructure to benefit local residents. Creating a robust tourism infrastructure is an important component of promoting the county for tourism.
Tourism infrastructure includes recreational amenities and events that are open to the general public, attracting visitors to the county and enhancing the quality of life for the county’s residents. The O&W Rail Trail, D&H Canal Tow Path and Upper Delaware Scenic Byway are part of the county’s tourism infrastructure. A dedicated funding stream could help to make these facilities and others even more attractive.
I believe a portion of the county’s room tax should be allocated to the creation of a Tourism Infrastructure Fund that could be used to fund improvements as recommended in the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway Enhancement Plan or O&W Rail Feasibility Study, as examples. It could also be allocated to other not-for-profits to create special events to attract visitors from far and wide.
While it is important to market the county, we must also invest in our tourism infrastructure to give visitors a compelling reason to visit time and time again. The Walkway Over the Hudson is now one the most visited attractions in New York.
Ulster County is investing millions of dollars in its trail systems. We have an opportunity to create like attractions in Sullivan County such as a Bikeway over the Neversink along the O&W Rail Trail or enhancements along the D&H Canal Tow Path.
The time is now to revisit the long-standing allocation of the county’s room tax. I continue to support the county allocating a portion of the county’s room tax to the SCVA to promote tourism in the county, but substantially less than the 85 percent it currently receives.
Moving ahead, a significant percentage of the county’s room tax should also be allocated to a Tourism Infrastructure Fund.
Alan Sorensen is a resident of Rock Hill, serves as a Sullivan County legislator and is planning commissioner of Orange County, NY.