CONY's CEO Standing Up for Parks in Hearing

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February 22, 2013 by   - () Leave a Comment

Donald G. Bennett Jr., CONY president/CEO

Editor's Note: On Jan. 15, Donald G. Bennet Jr., president and CEO of the Campground Owners of New York (CONY), testified before the New York General Assembly's Standing Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Assembly and the Standing Committee on Oversight, Analysis and Investigation. His testimony focused on the current state of the campground industry in the Empire State. 

About Donald Bennett and CONY:

Bennett has been with CONY for almost seven years as CEO. He is also a Certified Public Accountant and a third generation campground owner. His campground business just concluded its 50th year of operation in the Finger Lakes region.

CONY is headquartered in Pittsford, N.Y., and has approximately 200 privately owned campgrounds all over New York state as members. The organization was founded in 1963. CONY is dedicated to the promotion, growth, improvement and development of privately owned campgrounds in New York state.

Highlights from Bennett's testimony will appear in a three-part series on Part 1 appears below. 

Summary of the Privately Owned Campground Segment for 2012

Privately owned campgrounds and RV parks in New York state have experienced an average to above average campaign for 2012. The camping sector of the outdoor hospitality industry is very dependent on such conditions as the weather, fuel prices, the economy and current trends. In 2012 the weather cooperated, fuel prices remained stable; $4 per gallon seems to be the tipping point for many; the economy is still somewhat soft. Generally in bad economic times, camping becomes an affordable vacation. With the economy as it is, families are trading down from much costlier vacations, to thus learning to live with less.

Some statistics for the New York camper:

1) 74% of New York campers were at home the night before vs. North America at 54%. This shows the trend that with the poor economy, people stay closer to home commonly coined as “staycations.” As families struggle with employment issues and many families have become two income with both spouses working, it has become more difficult to align vacation time. Short, close to home vacations, getaways or weekends have become more popular.

2) 18% of the campers were first time camper’s vs. 15% for North America.

3) The purpose of the stay at private campgrounds: On the way to another location in New York was 25%. The national average is 48%. A Getaway/Weekend in New York amounted to 51% vs. 34% for North America. Stay and Play for New York amounted to 24%, while the national average was 18%.

The Private Campground Owner Faces:

1) Increased fees, taxes and expenses:

a. Fees have increased exponentially over the past few years. Examples are: Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) spedies permit. The permit for septic systems and the discharge into the ground system. DEC does nothing for this fee but yet it has doubled in the last few years. Ag and Markets charge a small seasonal operation the same fee as a multi-million dollar grocery store.

b. It is widely known that real estate taxes have increased a tremendous amount while assessed values have also raced ahead compounding the problem of high taxes. Many municipalities have implemented Occupancy Taxes on rental units and cabins and even in one county on campsites themselves. Campgrounds must be commended on green space and keeping large parcels of land from regular development, while keeping them on the tax rolls to help the funding of the local communities in which they are located.

c. Expenses have risen beyond belief. Electricity is one of the major expenses of a campground operation. Campgrounds are classified as a commercial electric user even though most of the electric is a residential nature. As a new small residential increase in transmission costs was widely debated in open forum, a radical large increase was kept under the radar that took effect in October 2010. This will prove to be a large and costly increase. Some meters' transmission charges and fees will in some cases triple. Some expenses fall on the consumer. To use the New York State Thruway without an easy pass, certain campers can cost $75 from one end of the state to the next.

2) Competition:

a. Privately owned campgrounds have been competing unfairly with New York State run campsites for decades.

i. Between the Office of Parks and the DEC, state-run parks account for approximately 15,000 campsites. The private sector contains approximately 45,000 campsites statewide.

ii. I would like to point out that camping is a privilege, not a right. I don’t think that subsidizing camping at state run facilities is the best use of taxpayer dollars, considering the many capital updates that the state-run facilities require that could be paid for out of operations.

iii. Many visitors to state-run facilities are from other states and provinces. Out-of-state citizens should at least pay market rate or at a minimum at break even rate. Many other states have two rates for their state-owned facilities giving their residents a “discount.” Why is it that New York state taxpayers are subsidizing out-of-state residents' vacations?

MONDAY: A closer look at parks in New York.

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