Ceasefire in Tax Lawsuit Against Playland

Rye and Westchester County have declared a brief ceasefire in their battle Playland paying property taxes. 

Published March 7, 2024 5:12 PM
3 min read

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Rye City and Westchester County have declared a brief ceasefire in their battle over whether Playland should pay nearly $3 million annually in property taxes. 

By agreeing to disagree for one tax year, Rye City — which would receive $2.2 million if Playland were to go on the tax rolls — will not have to budget as if it had received that money in case an Appellate division court finds the amusement park is tax-exempt.

City Attorney Kristen Wilson stressed that the city’s agreement not to tax Playland for the upcoming tax year is not a precedent in the ongoing effort to force Standard Amusements, the parks’ operator, to pay property taxes. “This has no bearing on the litigation, which we continue to pursue full force,” she said.

The city of Rye estimates that it must spend $325,000 annually for police, fire, and emergency medical services related to Playland, said City Manager Greg Usry. With that in mind, the city has asserted that Playland should not be tax-exempt.

The city believes that the operating agreement between the county and Standard Amusements supports that view. That agreement specifies that the county and Standard are to split the first $100,000 in property taxes and that the private firm is responsible for the remainder. That would seem suggest that the 78-acre amusement complex is taxable. 

The county, however, has asserted otherwise — that Playland is essentially parkland and should be tax-exempt. A September 2023 state Supreme Court opinion backed the county.

Wrote Judge Anne Minihan: “Playland, including the amusement rides, entertainment and other activities at Playland, is for public use despite the fact that the primary beneficiary may be Standard Amusements. The management of Playland by Standard Amusements provides a means of meeting the recreational needs of the people of Westchester County. The terms of the management agreement ensure that Playland continues to operate for the public good.”

Playland amusement park in the city of Rye.
Playland Amusement Park is owned by Westchester County but sits within the confines of the city of Rye. Photo by Christian Falcone

The city’s appeal has thrown the matter into a legal limbo that, until the recent short-term (one-year) agreement, made it difficult for the city to set its annual budget. That’s because, while on appeal, the state Supreme Court decision does not take effect — and so the city must, as a legal matter, assume that Playland will pay its tax bill and include that money in its budget. 

But because of the ongoing court battle, the city must be prepared not to spend that money if they lose — creating a big budget hole. As a result of the city agreeing that Standard and the county can operate for one fiscal year on the assumption that Playland is tax-exempt, the city does not have to budget money that it might not ever receive. 

The short-term agreement notwithstanding, the dispute among the city, the county, and Standard has gone to the next higher judicial level, the Appellate Division. Standard has shown no signs of backing down. 

“It would be fiscally prudent for the city of Rye to cease spending taxpayer money on frivolous lawsuits as they have been doing for the past decade,” Standard spokesman Chris Bastardi has said. “We look forward to continuing to host our Rye neighbors and their community groups, schools and non-profits at the park.”

Not to be ruled out:  A settlement in which Standard agrees to cover the city of Rye’s actual expenses, even as Playland goes off the tax rolls. As one of official involved puts it: “Hope springs eternal.” 

This article was updated on March 7.

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