Crunch time for YMCA
Community board seeks
takeover of city parks department
"(The election) is not going to
fly. It’s a doomed decision."
— TOM PRAGGASTIS, YMCA
By GREGORY FOLEY
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, 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
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
Praggastis noted that the city
funds could be allocated to the YMCA through a "contract for services"
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
"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
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
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
"I have a thousand questions," she
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.