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Sun, sand and 'success' With one year of beach management under its belt, Hamburg expects good things from Woodlawn in 2012

Woodlawn Beach State Park opened Saturday for a second year under Town of Hamburg operation.

The town takeover of beach operations last year was controversial, with some questioning the cost and benefit to the town and town taxpayers.

But for sand and sun lovers, the town takeover meant one of the region's best sites for access to the waterfront was open to the public after state budget problems left the future uncertain.

The town lost money last year, but not nearly as much as New York State did when it operated the park.

Hamburg aggressively marketed the beach as a destination last year for weddings and banquets, and it signed a contract with a restaurateur for a Mexican-style taqueria and a bar serving alcohol.

This year the town is appealing to children. A new play area with inflatable equipment is located on the beach to the north of the boardwalk. "Pirate's Cove" has a separate admission of $5 per child.

Plans for helicopter rides by Western New York Helicopter have not materialized.

"Right now that's in limbo," Supervisor Steven Walter said, adding that he is hopeful the operator will be able to offer rides from the parking area.

But that doesn't deter from the overall operations at the beach.

"I thought it was a huge success last year. We had tens of thousands of people come to the beach," Walters said. "We shattered single-day records from when the state was operating."

The town also lost $34,702 last year, according to a statement it submitted to the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Total revenues of $168,278 last year included $81,878 in beach entrance fees and $16,797 in rental of the pavilion for banquets. Revenues also included $12,000 in rental of space by the town Youth Bureau.

Expenses for the year were $202,980, including $67,006 for "contractual" costs, $114,175 for recreation and buildings and grounds payroll and benefits. Walters said contractual costs include miscellaneous one-time purchases, such as tables and chairs, lifeguard equipment and repairs inside the building.

"I think we're the model to look at," Walters said. "We've really made this a hugely successful operation after just one year. We expect to be more successful this year and in years to come."

Town operation of the beach has come under fire almost since it was proposed in 2010. The Town Board approved a 10-year contract with the state on a split vote in December 2010. The two Democrats who voted against the contract, and later voted against setting up an enterprise accounting fund for the beach, complained they had not seen the contract and had less than an hour to look over the budget.

The concern was that the beach -- a regional asset -- would cost the town money to run. New York State lost more than $300,000 on the beach the last full year it operated it.

But Walters was sure the beach would be a success. He accused critics of the beach of being politically motivated and of trying to sabotage the town.

"As taxpayers, we just want to know where the money is being spent," said Joe Kilian, president of the United Council of Hamburg Taxpayers.

The group has submitted Freedom of Information Law requests for payroll records and equipment purchases at the beach. Those requests have been denied by the town, which said it does not maintain separate records of items at the park.

"If the numbers are correct, they've done a good job at reining in the overexpenditures there," Kilian said. "I would like to see it succeed. We all would."