News & Insights
IT’S BEEN A LONG TIME SINCE WE’VE SEEN GROWTH LIKE THIS
Last updated on June 21st, 2019
We’re living in historic times in Sullivan County. We lead much of New York State in economic development. Our unemployment rate is a tenth of a percent away from a record low. We’re nearing completion of the largest building project County government has ever undertaken.
And both government and private business are benefiting from increased revenues thanks to bustling downtowns, a slew of new tourism attractions and a stable national economy.
Even amidst these better times, residents and visitors can be certain that Sullivan County government and its partners aren’t taking a break. Success brings challenges, both now and to come, and we are constantly, actively planning for the future.
Diversifying our economy
Sullivan County has once again risen to the top of visitors’ lists of interesting places to go in New York and beyond. Thanks to the tireless efforts of our Sullivan Catskills Visitors Association, Lonely Planet rated us one of the best destinations in the world.
The natural resources we’ve long enjoyed are being sought out by a new generation of young adults attracted to the purity and beauty of nature – the kind we have in the Delaware River, the Catskill Mountains, the Bashakill wetlands, the Beaverkill, and our seemingly endless lakes and forests.
Many of our farms are benefiting as a result, as these visitors (and locals) are rediscovering the matchless taste and nutrition of farm-grown vegetables, fruits, and livestock. And thanks to the new Catskill Food Hub in Liberty, we can spread our good food far beyond our local farms and markets, making it easy and inexpensive to get these popular products to the New York City metro region.
We’ve seen thousands of more people head this way for man-made attractions as well, from the new Kartrite Indoor Waterpark to the Resorts World Catskills Casino, from our multiple breweries and distilleries to our even more numerous Airbnbs.
In fact, in 2018 alone we collected $210,000 just from Airbnb establishments, as our Treasurer’s Office inked the very first room tax agreement Statewide with this innovative company.
Tourism and agriculture have always been the twin staples of Sullivan County’s economy, but as we know, they suffer boom-and-bust cycles just like any other industry. That’s why it’s vitally important the County and our economic development agencies collaborate constantly and strategically to open up new areas of trade and commerce.
The Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development is a key partner in this quest, having helped land a variety of new businesses, like the aerospace-oriented Metcar manufacturing facility in Glen Wild, employing close to a dozen people at competitive wages.
The Partnership, the Industrial Development Agency, and the County are working together to attract even more such factories and warehouses, particularly to the Old Route 17 corridor paralleling the Quickway between Harris and Ferndale. We’ve completed a study confirming this corridor has more than 2,000 acres of prime development space in an area already conducive to such uses and with easy access to Route 17.
The next challenges, on which we are beginning work, are to acquire the properties and extend existing nearby water and sewer infrastructure so that they can become the most attractive type of developable land: shovel-ready.
We’re undertaking a similar venture with property we already own: 75 acres behind the former Apollo Mall in Monticello, where we’ve begun development of a light-industry park. Once marked for the canceled expansion of the County Landfill, the land is very suitable for manufacturing facilities situated amidst carefully preserved forests and fields.
Growing to meet 21st-century demands
Growth requires growth. Otherwise, stagnation overtakes. That’s why Sullivan County has embarked on a variety of projects to promote and sustain growth.
One of the most exciting and promising initiatives focuses on wireless broadband. Our crew is even now at work on installing the hardware and software necessary to test the delivery of high-speed Internet service over the airwaves to a portion of the Village of Monticello and Town of Thompson, using County-owned radio towers.
If the test proves successful, we plan to gradually roll out wireless broadband access to communities throughout the County – bringing this vital service to people who might never have the opportunity otherwise… and also providing some needed competition to existing wired providers who currently enjoy a monopoly in the places they serve. (We don’t plan to get into the profit-making business, however. The long-range goal is to establish a nonprofit corporation to handle operations.)
Speaking of towers, we are in talks with Verizon to site a tower near our social services campus in Liberty, which currently suffers from poor cell reception. Verizon is also interested in hanging transmitters from our array of emergency communications towers – not just shrinking our notorious “dead spots” but also providing revenue to the County.
Jail just about ready
While it might sound strange to mention our new County Jail amidst this talk of growth and development, it is a project about which we all should be proud – and relieved. It’s taken the better part of the last half-century to finally reach an agreement to proceed forward with the construction of a badly-needed new jail. Indeed, our current jail is so old (some portions dating back to 1909) that we have to make replacement parts by hand.
The fact that the NYS Commission on Corrections did not permanently shutter our current facility is a miracle made possible only by our promises that we were diligently working on a new facility. The conditions in our old jail have become intolerable, both for staff and inmates, and we will gladly raze that outdated facility after everyone moves to the new location later this year.
We have a responsibility to house our prisoner’s inhumane conditions, but it’s also worth noting that our corrections officers will benefit – not just from a better workspace but an anticipated decrease in inmate issues and complaints.
Remember, too, that approximately half of this 133,000-square-foot facility will be dedicated to the Civil, Road Patrol and Administrative divisions of the Sheriff’s Office, taking them out of the dilapidated Bushnell Building and into a modern set of offices specifically designed with their needs in mind.
That same principle applies to two other building projects now in the works: the relocation of our District Attorney’s Office from the basement of the County Courthouse to a former law office on Hamilton Avenue, and the move of our Board of Elections from the Government Center to 518 Broadway. These new spaces will relieve them of their cramped, inefficient quarters and allow far better service to the public.
Being a fellow County homeowner, I very much understand the worry that burdensome property taxes may increase. We’re working incredibly hard to avoid significant tax increases, even though the County portion of property tax bills is already the smallest.
A modest, one-time increase funded the new jail, which should last us another 100 years or longer. Our sales and room tax revenues have climbed to record heights, and they look to continue that upward trend in the foreseeable future.
Plus, much of what I previously described – like the industrial parks – promise to attract more businesses to help shoulder the tax load. Indeed, it is this kind of development that will broaden our tax base and keep our future sustainable and attractive.
I welcome the current growth in our economy, and the Legislature, County staff and I intend to continue nurturing successful initiatives. It’s about time Sullivan County’s standard of living rose faster than the cost of living.
Sullivan County Manager