By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Per legislators’ request, Sullivan County Visitors Association (SCVA) CEO Roberta Byron-Lockwood returned to the Community and Economic Development Committee on Thursday to detail the SCVA’s services and budget.
While legislators have renewed the non-profit tourism promotion agency’s contract through December, they plan to request proposals for 2013 from any and all interested agencies later this year.
In the meantime, several legislators voiced concerns over the SCVA’s membership model (dues are $75 per business per year).
“It shouldn’t be membership-driven. It should be for everybody,” insisted Legislator Gene Benson, referring to the fact that the SCVA derives most of its funding from room tax and other public sources. “It’s spreading the wealth.”
Byron-Lockwood and SCVA board members Stacy Cohen and Paul Carlucci replied that certain services (like listings in the annual Travel Guide) are open to non-members and that the SCVA’s efforts to market the county’s attractive qualities have a “trickle down” effect on every local business.
“I think it already is ‘spread’ pretty well,” Carlucci said.
Benson, too, felt the SCVA’s staff costs comprising about 30 percent of its budget were high, compared to a national average of 15-20 percent.
That resulted in murmurs of “no” from across the room, where various non-profit leaders were listening. Several told Benson that the 15-20 percent figure represented the average only for administrative costs, not an entire staff.
“We don’t outsource,” added Byron-Lockwood. “We don’t have a lot of people doing the work for us.”
Two legislators Kitty Vetter and Jonathan Rouis defended the SCVA’s work as valuable and necessary, especially the matching funds program, whereby the county and the SCVA partner to provide funding to SCVA members for low-cost advertising in local publications.
Vetter, in particular, credited the program with enabling the Livingston Manor Chamber of Commerce and Shandelee Music Festival to promote their events, when their budgets otherwise couldn’t have afforded such.
“Promoting locally is an important part of what we do, in my opinion,” said Rouis.
But that, too, was a source of concern, this time from Legislator Scott Samuelson, who had seen ads (paid for under that program) that he felt didn’t have anything to do with tourism.
One was for a car dealership (Byron-Lockwood said it was related to an antique car rally), and another was for Marshall and Sterling Insurance, of which Cohen is a principal.
Byron-Lockwood and Cohen didn’t recall such an ad, though Cohen added that her insurance office “might as well be a little chamber of commerce.”
Samuelson also felt the SCVA should have more weekend hours. Currently, the agency’s Ferndale headquarters only stays open on Saturdays in the summer.
Benson noted that a listing in the Travel Guide was promoting an Ulster County business, but Byron-Lockwood replied that out-of-county groups pay a different marketing fee than members.