Rye Golf Club Should Consider Fee Experiments
By Howard Husock
The early July heat wave reminds us in Rye how fortunate we are to have ready access to beaches and pools, including the sparking outdoor pool at the Rye Golf Club. Public pools and locker rooms are not always well-maintained and clean — so the City should be proud of the Golf Club facility, which is municipally-owned and managed as a self-supporting enterprise fund.
At the same time, there is no getting around the fact that, compared to other municipally-owned swim facilities, the Golf Club is expensive. A family pool membership for Rye residents costs as much as $1,668 for the season ($1,450 for early renewal members). As I’ve noted previously in these pages, other communities similar to Rye charge far less. In Great Neck, L.I., for instance, not only do annual swim passes cost but $260 per family, but five-day passes are sold as well, for $75. In nearby Scarsdale, a weekday family pass costs but $327, while a weekday senior family pays but $164.
The higher fees in Rye reflect the City’s decision that the pool and golf complex should not be supported by the city’s scarce general revenue funds. The situation is the same for the Milton Boat Basin. In other words, those who use the pool are the ones who pay for it, not taxpayers who may not.
But even if we are to stick to that approach, there are ways the Golf Club management, with guidance from the Mayor and City Council, could offer lower fees with limited access—and, at the same time, potentially increase the Club’s revenue.
First, it’s worth noting that although Rye is an affluent community, it is not universally so. The Census Bureau reports that nearly 15 percent of households speak a language other than English at home, and that some 3 percent live in poverty. The pool fees for those of modest means — even for those not poor — are simply high. It’s true that a family which went to the pool every day for the months of June, July, and August would be paying just $17 per visit, but that hardly seems realistic. A household that went a more realistic 30 days during the summer season would be paying more than $50 per admission.
But there can be a way to offer a lower price without turning to the general taxpayer. Many families send kids to summer camps, which end in mid-August. They might well be willing to pay a reasonable daily or weekly admission fee between that time and Labor Day. So, too, might local seniors be willing to pay similar fees for themselves and visiting family. To make sure attendance does not swell beyond capacity, the Club could limit such privileges to City of Rye residents.
The Rye Golf Club, keep in mind, is exempt from property taxes, although it does reimburse the City for public services on which it relies. The city’s private clubs, however, face high property tax rates — revenue the City is foregoing in the case of Rye Golf Club, a site which overlooks Milton Harbor and could easily be developed. In exchange for its tax-exempt status, the Club should at least consider whether to experiment with new fee arrangements—which could both serve a wider cross-section of the city’s population and bring the Club additional revenue. How about a dry run (or maybe it’s a wet one!) for this August.