Sullivan County, only sometimes briefly

Sales tax up, room tax down

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 1/27/21

SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — “Thank God I was wrong,” said county treasurer Nancy Buck. Sales tax, she reported, was up for the year—much better than what she was predicting earlier …

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Sullivan County, only sometimes briefly

Sales tax up, room tax down

Posted

SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — “Thank God I was wrong,” said county treasurer Nancy Buck. Sales tax, she reported, was up for the year—much better than what she was predicting earlier in 2020 as lockdowns wrought budgetary havoc.

They’re probably still down from the $49 million in sales tax that was anticipated for 2020. Final numbers haven’t been sent by the state yet. And “a lot of times, they pull back a little bit,” Buck said. “We’ve had them pull back over a million.”

“In March, you’re going to really know exactly where we were at the end of the year.” She noted that despite lockdown, people ordered online and sales tax was collected from that. 

Mortgage tax is up—the half-percent mortgage tax is paid on the total loan, so people are buying houses—and room tax is down. That includes short-term rentals, assuming the tax gets paid, but it also includes the hotels (“a third of our rooms,” legislative chairman Rob Doherty said) that were closed for most of the year. 

Dollar amounts weren’t specified.

“Considering what I was expecting,” committee chair George Conklin said, “plan for the worst and hope for the best, this falls somewhere in the middle, I guess.” 

“Right,” said Buck. “Back in March, I was petrified.”

We’re recycling

Continuing the theme of upbeat numbers, recycling tonnage was up 808 tons, recycling coordinator Bill Cutler reported. That works out to 5,549 tons in 2020 versus 4,741 in 2019. “A nice increase,” Cutler said. 

We’re also producing less solid waste: 76,303 tons in 2020, a decrease of 1,172 tons in 2019. 

And another household hazardous waste collection is in the works. (At least nobody’s trying to get rid of a jar of mercury, which is the best household hazardous waste story this reporter has ever heard.)

Passing shot

“I know we don’t have the supply of vaccines,” said health and family services chair Nadia Rajsz, “but 800 vaccines and they’re all gone.” 

It was impressive. Around 5 p.m. on January 20, county director of communications Dan Hust announced that vaccines were available to those who qualified. (You had to be over 65 and a New York resident.) A little over two hours later, all the appointments were taken. 

So of course, everyone wants to know when more will be available. It’s hard to say. The county public health department is notified week to week, according to director Nancy McGraw. See brief on page 2 for how you can sign up to be notified when vaccines are available in Sullivan County.

In the meantime, the legislature approved resolutions to create a volunteer medical reserve corps to give shots when more are available and to create points of distribution in the schools. “We need all the help that we can get,” Rajsz said, “in order to contain these positives, and keep the numbers from getting higher.” 

Later in the meeting, commenter Ken Walter cited a Crystal Run doctor at a recent meeting who had said that people who have had COVID-19 more than three months ago should get the shot. “What your protection is after three months is questionable.” That needs to be looked into, he said, and data shown to people who are using a COVID-19 diagnosis as a reason to avoid the shot.

It’s unknown when county residents—or anyone else—will have more vaccines. The New York Times reported last week that the supply is unlikely to increase before April due to a lack of manufacturing capacity.

Covid update

Nancy McGraw reported that the county is at a high of 3,769 cases. “We need to be diligent about mask-wearing and social distancing,” she said. There were more than 1,000 positive tests in December, up from 250 in November. Of course, “this is also happening statewide,” she said. 

Flu shots were given to 350 people at various flu clinics. 

There was a discussion about isolation and quarantine. People who test positive get an isolation order from the county’s public health office. “If they’re just exposed they may get a notification from New York State’s Commcare system.”

A similar order was originally created for the measles epidemic, and it is in legalese because it needs to be binding, deputy county attorney Tom Cawley explained. “The order itself dictates what they’re supposed to do in quarantine... it’s kind of harsh, but it has to be that way.” 

“If there’s a known positive [who] has to quarantine,” Rajsz asked, “the immediate family that they live with, even if they test negative, but they’re still living with a positive person, do they have to isolate, and is there any recourse for them being out in the community?”

“Yes. I don’t know that they’d get the public health order,” Cawley said, “but if you’re living with someone in the household, then yes.” They might get a notice of exposure. 

“Individual circumstance[s] may vary,” McGraw said. It can depend on the exposed person’s job—are they an essential worker? If they’re asymptomatic and they’re able to keep in a separate room in the house from the positive family member, “they may not need to stay home.” There would be a discussion with public health and the state. 

Those essential workers with a positive family member would still have to stay socially distant from other employees, wash their hands and wear masks.

Police presence

Multiple people at the recent health and family services committee meeting protested the presence of three officers, instead of the one who has been in attendance in 2020. Ken Walter, who has gone to meetings for many years, said he didn’t remember officers before. “Only since the [adult care center] came up, have we had guards in the room,” he said. He questioned who was being guarded, the legislators or the people, and noted the worries about taxpayers’ money. “A 79-year-old man, I’m going to run over there and beat you up?” he asked. “This is intimidation. This is police state crap.” 

They were there for the protection of both legislators and people, legislator Nick Salomone said.

Sandy Oxford said that she’s been attending meetings since the beginning of the legislature. “I have been at meetings that were contentious, that had this room packed with people. When they were trying to build five casinos, and you couldn’t even breathe in here! We never had one person with a shield or with a weapon!”

We’re trying to improve community relationships with the police, she said, “and this is what you do? You are putting them in a very, very difficult situation. We are changing the trajectory in this country, we want to work with our law enforcement... You are undermining the work that we did!” 

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