Free Playland

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Playland, Westchester NYPlayland is free. Again. This time, thanks to a vote Wednesday by the Westchester County Board of Legislators.

The controversy concerning a spectator fee for Playland is beginning to resemble a beloved ride in that park: The Whip. That harrowing ride sends you in one direction, then whips you around in the other direction. And so it is with the fee charged to non-riding residents, with Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino insisting that the fee remain, while the Democratic-led Board of Legislators insisting it should go.

The Westchester County 2011 budget, passed in December, 2010, called for a Playland spectator fee of $5 for residents and $10 for non-residents, as a means to collect more revenue.

On May 23 of this year, County legislators adopted a retroactive plan to remove the spectator fee for residents. They were reacting to the opinions of residents who have complained that the fee is not fair to resident taxpayers. According to Democratic legislators, their constituents are so angry about the resident fee, they will not be visiting Playland anymore. That sentiment is driving the dispute, as well as uncertainty about the spectator fee on overall revenue.

Through June 12th of this year, resident spectators numbered 7,323, down from 12,212 in 2010. William Ryan (D- White Plains, Scarsdale), predicts that by dropping the fee, more residents will visit Playland, and that increased revenue will make up for the loss of the fee.

County Executive Rob Astorino (R) and Republican legislators dispute this theory. Astorino issued a veto of the fee removal on June 27. In a letter to the Board of Legislators, Astorino contends the fee slash was not backed up by anything more convincing than attendance figures from one weekend. He goes on to say, “let’s put to rest the notion that Playland amusement park is the only “park” in the County system that requires an admission fee.” He explains, “in these difficult economic times I cannot allow an action that will shackle the County taxpayers with another $377,000 of tax burden.”

Ryan contends, “The legislature and the County Executive’s office are dealing with a whole lot of guesstimates.”According to Ryan, whether the spectator fee increases or decreases overall revenue is unclear because the methods used to track attendance changed in 2009 at the same time the fee was introduced. Prior to 2009, park attendance was estimated at 800,000 to 1 million people. After the pricing and new tracking went into effect, 2009 saw 500,000 Playland visitors and in 2010, it dropped to 490,000.  Questions Ryan, “Why is there a drop in attendance? We compared industry figures for the same year with parks comparable to Playland.  Allowing for the bad economy, most parks bumped along. Only Playland showed a marked decline. Is it just a coincidence that admission dropped when we instituted the new pricing policy?” Ryan continues, “We will be tweaking a few things here and there to boost attendance. We think the bottom line will be a positive one”.

On July 6, the Board of Legislators convened a special session to override the veto. The vote was 12-4 and along party lines, with Democrats in favor. “The goal is to get people into Playland—not keep them out,” said Legislator and Minority Whip Judith Myers (D-Larchmont). “This plan is a compromise with the Administration, giving county residents free access to the park while continuing to charge non-residents.”

One more ride on The Whip, anyone?

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