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Friday — April 23, 2004


Crunch time for YMCA

Community board seeks
takeover of city parks department

"(The election) is not going to fly. It’s a doomed decision."


Express Staff Writer

A plan to build a state-of-the-art $16 million recreational complex in Ketchum reached a critical juncture this week, with the future of the project possibly resting in the hands of the city’s five elected leaders.

Officials of the Wood River Community YMCA proposed Wednesday, April 21, to take over the city of Ketchum’s Parks Department and collect its $450,000 annual budget allocation, in lieu of pursuing a $3 million pledge the city made to support a planned YMCA facility.

Tom Praggastis


Tom Praggastis, a member of the Ketchum-based YMCA’s board of directors, presented the new proposal at a special meeting of the Ketchum City Council. Praggastis said he and other YMCA officials are convinced that a citywide vote to consider a $3 million revenue bond for the project would ultimately fail.

"Given the options the city has in front of it, a decision to seek approval through an election for a revenue bond is a doomed decision," Praggastis said.

City Council members appear to be split on whether they might support the new funding plan for the YMCA.

Councilwoman Terry Tracy, the city Parks and Recreation director from 1978 to 2003, said she will not vote to allocate public funds to the YMCA group without first getting approval from Ketchum citizens.

"I’m not sure I can support ringing the bell on a proven, successful department in the city of Ketchum," she said. "I intend to go to the voting public."

At issue is how the city will move forward on a 2003 pledge to provide the YMCA with $3 million to go toward a proposed recreation complex on the city’s Park and Ride Lot, at the corner of Warm Springs and Saddle roads.

The proposed facility is estimated to cost $12 million to build and will require an additional $4 million for planning costs and an operating reserve.

Mayor Ed Simon in February 2003 signed a City Council resolution stating that "the city will match the initial $3 million of charitable pledges by timely seeking voter approval of a revenue bond in the amount of $3 million."

The Wood River Community YMCA—formerly the Janss Center—in February 2004 eclipsed the $3 million mark in its capital fund-raising campaign. The organization reported this week that it has raised approximately $4 million towards the proposed project.

The planned two-level, 85,000-square-foot recreational facility is designed to include an ice rink that converts to an events center, two swimming pools, a gymnasium, a climbing wall, a fitness center and a daycare room.

Praggastis on Wednesday said future fund raising for the YMCA is largely hinging on whether the city provides the money it pledged last year.

"Your support of our project is a vital component to our success," he said. "And when I say vital, I really mean that."

With other YMCA officials from Twin Falls and Boise looking on, Praggastis told council members that he and other leaders of the project have determined that the most efficient way for the city to meet its pledge is through a consolidation of the Parks Department into the YMCA.

With four employees, the Parks Department manages all of the city’s recreation programs and public parks on a budget of approximately $450,000.

The YMCA funding plan proposes that the city allocate the full sum of the department’s budget to the YMCA for 10 years, with the YMCA guaranteeing that the department’s employees would be offered jobs in the organization and all of the department’s programs would be maintained.

"Our proposal simply allocates the funds you’re already spending on (recreation) to the Y," Praggastis said.

Praggastis noted that the city funds could be allocated to the YMCA through a "contract for services" agreement.

He said an election asking Ketchum voters whether they approve of a revenue bond for the YMCA—which would require a two-thirds majority—would be conducted today under different circumstances than what existed when the February 2003 resolution was passed.

"There can be no reasonable justification for a resident to vote in favor of a revenue bond when the city has the option to obtain the same result with a small amount of additional money being spent," Praggastis stated in a letter to the council.

Tracy held firm in her position that the matter should be put before voters.

"This type of proposal, in my mind, deserves voter approval, and this (new) proposal here is trying to circumvent that."

Tracy expressed strong concern that the new proposal would ultimately cost the city $4.5 million in payments to the YMCA, plus continuing costs of maintaining the city’s parks.

"I have a thousand questions," she said.

Councilwoman Christina Potters concurred with Tracy that voters should approve funding for the YMCA.

However, Councilman Baird Gourlay said he generally supports the plan and is not convinced the city must get voter approval to proceed.

"I just don’t believe we should go to the voters for every single thing," he said. Nevertheless, he said he is in favor of holding future public hearings on the issue.

If the city were to plan construction of a public swimming pool, Gourlay said, that project alone could cost up to $12 million in public funds.

Council President Randy Hall said he believes the city should seek to isolate in the city budget some $275,000 once earmarked annually for the YMCA project out of the city’s local-option tax revenues. The funds have been incorporated into the city’s general fund and absorbed by city operations.

Despite his concerns, Hall concluded that he is in support of studying the new YMCA funding plan.

"I suggest we get started right away," he said.

Simon, who would be asked to break any tie vote by the council, indicated he might vote in favor of the funding plan after further review.

The council agreed to discuss the proposal in detail at a special meeting Tuesday, May 11, at noon. A public town meeting will likely follow in late May or June.


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