As we know, Sullivan County government is practically broke.
In my last Writer’s Workshop of Sullivan County article, I argued that the County Legislature has mislaid much of the blame associated with its perilous financial circumstances on supposed rampant welfare and Medicaid fraud.
And as a consequence in fixating fault on servicing the poor, they created a new, well-paid position for going after and recouping from these cheats, with the possibility of recipients wrongfully going to jail.
I also contended the unlikelihood that the same form of justice will be meted-out to rich and powerful welfare suppliers.
I called for the similar criminal prosecution of hospitals and doctors that provide unneeded medical tests and treatments, along with unscrupulous food merchants who can easily accept food stamps in payment for disallowed items, like dog food.
So what’s really the answer that doesn’t fix blame on the poor alone?
What this and previous County Legislatures haven’t done effectively is find new and better ways to expand the inflows to the county treasury so as to comfortably afford those needed services to all residents of Sullivan County.
First, we need new business in the County.
Early on in the current Legislative session, some of our newly elected legislators correctly and boldly asserted that they needed to take greater control over the Industrial Development Agency that is tasked to encourage employers to settle in the area by offering tax breaks and other incentives in exchange for promises of new jobs.
At best the IDA and other community block grant assistance has had a mostly abysmal record, with some employers accepting the agency’s liberal terms without reciprocal job-creation. For example, it’s still not clear whether tax abatements for Ideal Snacks in Liberty has truly created enough meaningful employment to offset the cost of those county services to their workers that those legislators like to attack. And we all await with great anticipation the fruits of tax relief of the Concord project that a majority of legislators have challenged at public meetings.
I guess it remains to be seen if their brash moves to strengthen their control over the agency will bear any fruit at all, or whether they will just kill all future projects because of the acrimony they are creating with their actions.
But there are other, surer ways by the Legislature to collect revenues.
One controversial option is to re-examine and litigate existing claims by businesses that they should operate as “not-for-profit” entities.
There are many “not for profit” entities, such as entertainment venues, special needs and educational institutions, youth scout organizations, and others that generate huge revenues operating in Sullivan County while utilizing government services for nothing. They basically run a number of profitable side businesses and pay very high executive salaries while avoiding paying their fair share of property and sales taxes.
The county needs to also extensive challenge the right of religious institutions and their members from paying their fair share of taxes.
As with most governments in the state, the County collects little or no taxes from houses of worship and related entities. Churches (used here generically) use the County’s and municipal’ services and resources, like public roads, police and fire protection, yet are usually under no obligation to contribute one cent in taxes in return.
Why can’t Sullivan County and New York State just tax them like they are taxed in neighboring states, where they pay their fair share under stricter laws?
A newspaper report from years back surprisingly found that if religious institutions paid their fair in taxes it would increase county revenues by 17 per cent, enough for vast improvement for our roads and bridges, education, and so much more! Besides, under Article I of the U.S. Constitution government is to be neutral and not “promote” religion or religious institutions.
Bottom line: Granting tax exemptions for such institutions actually constitute a form of promotion of religion.
If the County was willing to enact bold reforms in building a new business climate here and in the way it defines and collects taxes, while creating meaningful jobs that enable people to get off the welfare rolls, there would be no need to scapegoat the poorest among us for the purpose of balancing the budget.
It’s time for our legislators themselves to stop living off the political dole.
They need to get to work themselves by disempowering the protectionist good old boys that stop new business from coming and flourishing in the county and take on the sacred not for profits and religious institutions whose prominent benefactors donate generously to their political campaigns rather than pay for their fair share to the depleted county treasury.