Tags: Rye | Playland | amusement | park

Playland Takes Taxpayers for Ride

Wednesday, 09 May 2012 05:23 PM

By Drew Johnson

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Plenty of local governments own and operate an array of ridiculous recreational venues at the expense of taxpayers. Golf courses, waterparks, concert venues, museums and movie theaters are frequently purchased or built on the taxpayers’ dime and run (poorly) by government bureaucrats, resulting in billions of wasted tax dollars every year.

But only one local government — Westchester County, New York — is careless enough with taxpayers’ hard-earned money to waste it on a failing amusement park.

ryeplayland-(1).jpg
Park attendance has dropped off dramatically despite Playland’s status as a National Historic Landmark. This photo was taken in May of 1942.
(AP Image)
Playland, located in the Westchester County shorefront community of Rye, is scheduled to open for its 2012 season this Saturday, May 12.

The 84-year-old amusement park, as it turns out, is not very amusing to the county taxpayers who have to shell out seven-figure subsidies every year to keep the park in business.

In 2011 alone, bailing out the insolvent park cost county taxpayers $3.4 million.

Such amusement park welfare payments are commonplace for Westchester County residents. Since 2000, Playland has robbed taxpayers of $44 million to subsidize operating loses.

In fact, Playland has been a loser for Westchester County taxpayers since day one. Every single year since its opening in 1928, the county-owned amusement park has failed to break even, forcing annual taxpayer handouts.

Sadly, no county official in all of that time has had the common sense or the respect for taxpayers’ money to shutter the park or sell it to private operators.

On top of the regular taxpayer-funded giveaways used to keep the park open, county taxpayers have doled out another $36 million on capital improvements over the past 20 years. This includes $8.2 million since 2006 to fund the purchase of new rides.

While Westchester County residents bear the brunt of Playland’s financial woes, federal taxpayers paid to bail out the broke amusement park when the National Park Service awarded the park a $500,000 “Save America’s Treasures” grant in 2005.

Playland’s attendance has dropped off dramatically in recent years, increasing the park’s cost to county taxpayers even more as a result. As recently as 2005, one million visitors a year flocked to Playland, but attendance has plummeted every year since, to a meager 420,000 in 2011.

Some blame the economy for the downturn in attendance, others blame the park’s weathered appearance and dated attractions.

Certainly, a string of four deaths — including two 7-year-olds from accidents at Playland — during a three-year stretch from 2004 to 2007 didn’t help matters.

Owners of a private amusement park with Playland’s history of financial failure and abysmal attendance would’ve closed the park years ago. Westchester lawmakers, however, lack the economic incentives to make rational business decisions about Playland.

After all, rather than reaching into their own pockets to fund the park’s failures, they can reach into the pockets of taxpayers, as they have every year since Calvin Coolidge was president.

Playland is proof that politicians wasting tax dollars to build and operate recreational facilities is nothing new. For 84 years,

Westchester County policymakers have hoped that Playland would attract enough paying customers to break even, or even make a few bucks for the county. For 84 years, it hasn’t.

Every local official in America should learn a lesson from Playland before pouring their constituents’ money into a business that is best left to the private sector.

It rarely turns out well for taxpayers. After all, if building a recreational venue in a given locale was a good idea, an enterprising businessman would have already done it.

Drew Johnson is a senior fellow at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, a nonpartisan, nonprofit educational organization dedicated to a smaller, more responsible government. Read more reports from Drew Johnson — Click Here Now.

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