On June 14th in a hastily called meeting with barely 24 hours notice to legislators, the Democrat supermajority on the Westchester Board of Legislators voted to eliminate the spectator fee for county residents to Playland. 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 over the past few weeks, we strongly opposed and voted against changing this fee structure because it was fiscally irresponsible.
This past Tuesday, the Republican Legislators challenged their Democrat colleagues to identify spending cuts to offset the loss of the spectator fees, so that we could consider supporting the change. Unfortunately, the Democrat Legislators failed to meet this challenge and simply voted to eliminate at least $377,000 in revenue from the county’s finances.
The Democrat Legislators claim that by removing the spectator fee, attendance at Playland would increase and the lost revenue would be made up through additional spending by more people. They offered no study or data of any kind to justify this claim. It was merely a theory – certainly premature to be responsible legislation. The supporters of this theory failed to do their homework and produce genuine evidence that increased attendance by spectators would make up for the lost $377,000. I am not willing legislate on a whim and be so fiscally irresponsible with our county’s finances.
Let’s look at the facts.
The county keeps 100% of the $5 entrance fee collected for each resident spectator entering into the park. In order to just break even for the revenue being lost, each person entering for free would have to spend an additional $25 in food above and beyond what they would normally spend anyway.
Also, according to the analysis of the Parks Department, the county receives an average of only 96 cents in additional revenue from 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 for the year was only 494,000 and that does not include the extra expenses associated with the larger numbers of patrons. Had the Democrat Legislators done their homework, they could have learned about this important evidence. It must be a priority for county legislators to ensure that Playland pays for itself, and this vote fails that test.
It is not a surprise the Democrat Legislators offered such hopelessly flawed arguments, but it does illustrate the point that their decision to eliminate the spectator fee was an ill-conceived and politically-motivated maneuver based on specious “evidence.” Why would Westchester County employ a management team at Playland and a Budget Director – who do not support the fee change – if the Democrat Legislators just ignore the expertise these professionals offer? Trial and error with taxpayer money is not a suitable method to achieve financial viability at Playland.
The Democrat Legislators were also hypocritical on this vote. During the budget process in December (only 6 months ago), they voted in favor of the spectator fee, and now that we are into the summer season at Playland, they just changed their minds on a whim and eliminated the fee. The Republican Legislators do not agree with changing the fees already anticipated in the budget. Much discussion took place in December – literally hundreds of changes were proposed to the budget – but Playland was never discussed and almost every legislator voted to approve the spectator fee.
The Democrat Legislators just 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 into the fiscal problems we face today. The Republican Legislators will not join this fiscal irresponsibility – we will continue to fight to protect your hard-earned tax dollars.