Paddling in Red Ink

Canoe Livery

The city of Midland operates its own canoe livery (pictured above). Why should cities be in the business of summer fun when there are so many other pressing needs, such as road repair and public safety?

Midland is home to the "Tridge"–a structure that links three pieces of land separated by the confluence of the Chippewa and Titta-bawassee rivers. The city provides a beautiful setting for many summer activities such as tennis, biking, swimming, and canoeing. Unfortunately, when it comes to paying for Midland’s stable (often called "livery") of canoes, city leaders are paddling upstream.

Midland County residents subsidize the operation of the city’s canoe livery. According to the city’s budget, from 1991-1995 expenditures exceeded revenues by more than $2,400. The livery operated at a loss in 1991, 1992, and 1995. In 1993 and 1994 the livery brought in revenue of $64 and $202 respectively. Data provided by the city for Fiscal Year (FY) 1997-98 show a loss of $1,400. Anticipated losses for FY 1998-99 are estimated by the city to be $1,250.

The canoe livery’s annual budgets, obtained by Michigan Privatization Report, suggest that city officials fully recognize that expected revenue will not cover the expenses of its operation.

Fortunately, there is another option for the residents of Midland: Sell the canoes to a private livery and get out of the recreation business.

A private vendor would have the incentive to provide canoe rides at a competitive price. Why? The market exacts a toll from the inefficient. If a private livery failed to please consumers it would go out of business, as it should.

Besides–is it the business of local government to pay for recreational activities that could be run more efficiently and effectively by the private sector? A simple examination of the city government’s priorities suggests the answer is, "no." With so many other competing demands on the city’s budget, wouldn’t it be best to eliminate the livery and shift the savings to more pressing needs?