Editorial

Sullivan legislature will shift

Posted 11/13/19

The Sullivan County Legislature’s balance of power is going to shift next year. The current numbers suggest there will be seven Republicans and two Democrats on the board. A couple of the races …

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Editorial

Sullivan legislature will shift

Posted

The Sullivan County Legislature’s balance of power is going to shift next year.

The current numbers suggest there will be seven Republicans and two Democrats on the board. A couple of the races are close and the totals could change once the absentee ballots are counted, but in any case, there will be at least four new faces on the legislature and perhaps more.

It will be interesting to see if the newly constituted body changes direction on its goals and policies. For years, the county legislature has been progressive with sustainable power and green initiatives. The county is a climate-smart community, and has moved forward with solar installations, retrofitting and other steps meant to blunt or help reduce the most harmful impacts of climate change.

In Legislative District One, Robert Doherty will be taking the seat from Scott Samuelson. From comments made on the campaign trail, it appears that Doherty sill also support moving forward with sustainability issues. As a businessman who deals directly with farmers, he has said he is concerned about protecting the environment and the farming economy.

In District Five, George Conklin will be replacing Terri Ward in the legislature, and he may not be as enthusiastic about sustainable-energy goals as others on the board. When he was supervisor of the Town of Fremont in 2016, the board updated its zoning code as it relates to solar installations in that town. At one meeting, Richard Chung and Pete Dolgos from Delaware River Solar tried to pursue the town to adopt the tax exemption for solar projects that many municipalities adopt, relying on Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) agreements to generate revenue from the town. The entire board rejected pilot agreements as having never worked for the town.

Other candidates who will be sitting on the board come January have yet to establish much of a record on the issue of sustainability, but they will doubtless be asked to vote on such issues more than once in the upcoming session.

Another issue that is sure to face lawmakers in the new session is whether to move forward with the proposed construction of a proposed Sullivan County visitors center. Lawmakers voted six to three on October 18 to purchase property for $425,000 on Rock Hill Drive, where the center will be constructed. Ultimately, the facility will be built with funds from the occupancy tax and not from county taxpayers.

Still, three lawmakers opposed the move. Catherine Owen is leaving the board, so that’s one vote of opposition gone. Doherty has expressed opposition to the visitors center—specifically, he has criticized a lack of transparence form organizations like the Sullivan County Visitors Association. Other Republicans who are coming onto the board have made a point of saying one of the most important goals of lawmakers is to spend taxpayer money. We suspect that applies even if the taxes come from people who don’t live in the county, and when the issue re-emerges, it’s not clear where all nine legislators will stand.

Another area that will once again confront legislators is the distribution of sales taxes. In New York State—46 of 57 counties outside of New York City share some of their portion of sales taxes with towns. Sullivan County has 15 towns, and several town supervisors have expressed the view that the county should share sale-tax revenue, especially now that the sale-tax picture has significantly improved with the coming of the casino, the water park and other developments. This current legislature has declined to share.
Michael Brooks will be joining the legislature from District Three, winning the election after Mark McCarthy decided not to run again. He has been a member of the Neversink Town Board, and during the campaign, he expressed the view that county sales-tax revenue should be shared with the towns.

Conklin, who is still the supervisor of the Town of Fremont, shares that view, saying the towns help to generate sales tax and town budgets should benefit from it as well as the county’s budget.

Many counties—46 of 57 outside of New York City—share a portion of their sales-tax collections with other local governments within their borders.

Regardless of the outcome of the absentee ballot count, the makeup of the next legislature is bound to look different than the current one. The new county legislators will undoubtedly come in with new ideas and goals.

Let’s hope that they keep in mind the number one obligation of all elected officials: serving their constituents, not their own personal agendas.

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