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An Orange County planning commissioner and the pony

man in white shirt with tie

Alan Sorensen, planning commissioner for Orange County tells Sullivan County that its wildly successful Sullivan Catskills Visitors Association is just a bit too wildly successful and should be defunded. This in a February 4 Sullivan County Democrat letter to the editor.

And this morning, Orange County Planning Commissioner Alan Sorensen, as a Sullivan County legislator, will vote on a resolution to terminate Sullivan County’s contract with the wildly successful Sullivan Catskills Visitors Association.

Let that all sink in for a moment.

colorfully painted dove statue
Sullivan Catskill Visitor Association’s 2019 ‘Dove Trail’ initiative has brought more than $1.5M to county businesses like Villa Roma. SCVA is funded entirely through a bed tax collected from county lodge and hotel visitors.

And then consider this. Republican legislators like Robert Doherty argued aggressively this year that management of the 4-star rated county-owned Care Center at Sunset Lake was just too much for the county to handle. (The Care Center has a 4-star Medicare rating under county management.)

But while Republican legislators thought that managing a nursing care facility was just too much for Sullivan County, Sorensen and Republicans say that managing county tourism is right in their bailiwick.

Because according to Sorensen, they can “create special events to attract visitors from far and wide.”

So unless Orange County Planning Commissioner Sorensen has an under-the-radar summer Sullivan solar eclipse that he’s holding close to the vest, Sullivan Catskills Visitors Association President Roberta Byron-Lockwood and board chair Sims Foster will be delivering “visitors from far and wide.”

Millions of them and you can rest assured that that is the case because they’ve been doing just that for years and years and in doing so have significantly grown jobs and significantly positively impacted the Sullivan County economy.

Roberta Byron-Lockwood has lead Sullivan Catskills Visitors Association since 2007. Between 2009 and 2019, Sullivan County tourism spend grew 85%.

Under Lockwood’s leadership, Sullivan County ranks first in New York State, out of 62 counties, in tourism spend growth. That is, she grew the revenue that tourists bring into Sullivan County businesses more than anyone else in any other New York county. Lockwood did this two years running. Lockwood also drove Sullivan County to first place in tourism-driven sales tax growth (13%) in 2019.

All of this pre-COVID.

While Lockwood has helmed the SCVA, tourism has grown to account for a 20% share of Sullivan County employment, placing Sullivan County second only to the Adirondacks in tourism employment. And under Lockwood, 14% of all labor income in Sullivan County is generated by tourism.

Every township in Sullivan County has at least one member business in SCVA and Lockwood, with an eye to youth, has doubled the county’s social media following in just one year. She tripled SCVA’s newsletter subscriber base – a source of free business-to-consumer marketing.

And Orange County Planning Commissioner Alan Sorensen dreams of “special events to attract visitors from far and wide.”

So this is all amateur-hour nonsense. Sorensen and Doherty are attacking the entity that has performed, or rather outperformed for Sullivan County, growing jobs and the economy, for nearly two decades.

So why would a legislator sabotage success? Why would a legislator sabotage success just as tourism is about to bust out post-COVID?

The original 2007 Sullivan County Hotel and Motel Tax law stipulates one corporate recipient of hotel tax revenue. A proposed amendment allows for multiple corporations to receive funds from the tax-that-Lockwood-built.

Recapping, in 2007 Sullivan Catskills Visitors Association was tasked with building tourism for the county and its businesses. Their work would be funded by taking 85% of a 5% hotel room tax. Do a good job, tax revenue grows and the budget increases, providing more funds to further grow tourism. And on. A virtuous cycle.

Until a legislator decides to steal the 85% and give it to constituents.

Or put simply:

“If you get a B in spelling, I’ll buy you a pony.”

“I got an A in spelling.”

“I’m taking the pony.”

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