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Rye Playland independent audit moving forward, Dems say

Playland Park celebrates the opening of its new

Playland Park celebrates the opening of its new season in Rye. (May 12, 2012) Photo Credit: John Meore

Democrats on the Westchester County Legislature are moving ahead with an independent audit of Playland, accusing County Executive Rob Astorino of providing inaccurate revenue projections on the county's money-losing entertainment venue.

On Tuesday, Democrats meeting in committee pushed through a resolution that would, if approved by the full legislature on Sept. 10, allow the board to hire a private firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of the park's finances.

"This is a thirteen million-dollar-a-year business that deserves a full financial and operational audit so that legislators can make informed decisions about Playland's future," Legis. Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining), who proposed the audit, said in statement. "With this in mind, it is entirely prudent that we start planning for an audit right now."

A spokesman for Astorino dismissed the Democratic lawmakers' efforts as unnecessary and wasteful.

"There is nothing hidden about Playland's finances, which are on line," Ned McCormack said, "so it seems like a big waste of taxpayer money to have a second audit when the county is already paying its independent auditor $450,000 a year for work that includes a review of Playland's finances and those finances are approved by the Board of Legislators as part of the budget process."

The move comes as Westchester officials are nearing a decision on the historic park's future.

Playland is bleeding money at a rate of nearly $5 million a year because of rising labor costs, debt obligations and a drop in attendance, estimated at 80,000 patrons in the past year alone. The county owes $30 million on debt service for capital projects in the park, which will cost taxpayers about $3 million this year, according to county figures released earlier this year.

County officials are reviewing three proposals -- narrowed from a list of 12 contenders last year by a citizens committee -- to renovate 100 acres of the sprawling, 280-acre entertainment venue off Long Island Sound.

Astorino has pledged to come up with a better business model for the park but hasn't made a decision on which proposal, if any, he will support. The final three citizens committee recommendations included proposals for renovating the park and adding new amenities that the county is considering, or a hybrid proposal that incorporated numerous ideas.

Democratic lawmakers said updates on park attendance and revenue have been "incomplete and sporadically reported."

The audit proposal is the latest in a series of exchanges between some lawmakers and Astorino over the future of the historic amusement park, one of the few parks in the nation owned and operated by a local government.

Democrats also recently resurrected a proposal, which was vetoed last year by Astorino, to convert a historic bathhouse at the entertainment park into a children's museum. The nonprofit group behind the museum proposal wants to invest more than $6.4 million on renovations on the bathhouse, but county officials said they need more details about the plan.

Earlier this month, a handful of lawmakers staged a news conference at the park, using the iconic "Kiddieland" rides as a backdrop as they accused Astorino of excluding them from planning the park's future.

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