On June 14th in a hastily called meeting with only 24 hours notice the Democratic Supermajority on the Westchester County Board of Legislators voted to eliminate the entrance fees for county residents to the county-owned Playland amusement park. The capricious fee change will cost taxpayers at least $377,000 for the remainder of the season. The Republican caucus did not participate in the vote since just last week we voted not to change the fee structure at this time.
However, we offered that if the Democrats would identify a source of revenue to offset the loss in spectator fees the Republicans would consider supporting the change.
The Democrats claim by removing the entrance fee, attendance at Playland would increase and the lost revenue would be made up through additional spending by those in attendance. There were no studies or data of any kind to justify this claim.
Let’s look at the facts.
The county keeps 100% of the $5.00 entrance fee collected for each entrant to the park. In order to just break even for the revenue loss in the budget each and every person entering for free would have to spend an additional $25.00 in food above and beyond what they would normally spend anyway.
Also, according to the analysis by the county’s Parks Department, the county receives an average of only 96 cents in additional revenue in ride fees from patrons who enter the park with spectator passes. That means 370,000 spectator patrons would have to come to the park just to make up for the lost revenue. Last year, total attendance was only 494,000. And that doesn’t include extra expenses associated with larger numbers of patrons.
Playland amusement park is already costing taxpayers $3 million to $5 million a year; to intentionally increase the losses is completely irresponsible.
So far the best idea the Democrats have come up with is to eliminate the fireworks at Playland. They claim that canceling the contract would save $117,000, less than a third of the amount lost by eliminating the entrance fees. The proposal to cancel the fireworks at Playland to facilitate the fee-elimination that the Democrats claim would increase attendance absolutely defies any kind of logic. Attendance at the park on the weeknights that offer fireworks spikes to 15% over weeknights that don’t offer fireworks. In addition to the obvious counterproductive results that canceling the fireworks would achieve, there are major questions about our contract with the fireworks company. Also, a significant aspect of the advertising campaign associated with Playland features the fireworks as an attraction.
The fact that the Democrat supermajority’s logic is so hopelessly flawed is not a surprise but it does illustrate the point that the democrats on the Board of Legislators decision to eliminate the fees is an ill-conceived and politically-motivated maneuver that is based on specious “evidence” that would not pass muster in an elementary school classroom. Why would Westchester County employ a management team at Playland and a Budget Director who do not support the fee change if the supermajority intends to ignore the expertise that these professionals offer? The only alleged empirical data cited by the majority was a comparison of two weekends from 2010 and 2011. This “research” was completely inadequate for this decision. Trial and error with taxpayer’s money is not a suitable method to achieve financial viability at Playland.
During the budget process in December, the Democrats voted in favor of the fee and now that we are well into the summer season at Playland, the Democrats want to change their minds and eliminate the fee. So far, in addition to the complete lack of research and analyses to verify the fiscal implications of this change, the Republican Legislators do not agree with changing the fees now that we are well into the season. Much discussion took place in December – literally hundreds of changes were proposed to the budget – but Playland was never discussed and every legislator voted to approve the spectator fee.
The Democrats of the supermajority still don’t get it. This is exactly the type of political pandering and “by-the-seat-of-the-pants” financial mismanagement that got the county in the fiscal problems we face today. The behaviour by the Democrats is a vivid illustration as to why their supermajority is so harmful to the County’s taxpayers.