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March 16, 2010

Some County leaders support withdrawal of funds for YMCA in McIntire Park

Reader comments (0) DailyProgress By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Three members of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors voiced support for revisiting the County’s commitment to invest $2.03 million in the construction of a new YMCA facility in McIntire Park.

At a Monday work session on next year’s capital improvements budget, Supervisor Rodney Thomas raised the question of whether the County’s past action to fund the YMCA was set “in stone.” 

“I would like to see it uncommitted, if possible,” said Thomas.

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The Piedmont Family YMCA signed a use agreement with the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County in January 2008.  While the City provided a lease on 3 to 5 acres in McIntire Park, the County committed to investing $2.03 million from its capital budget, funds that have already been appropriated and are awaiting disbursement.

“The County entered into an agreement that funded [the YMCA facility] and that money was appropriated and there was no contingency to not pay that money,” said County Attorney Larry Davis to the board.

Supervisor Ken Boyd asked if the money could be “unappropriated” given the challenging budget facing the county.

“We are in different times right now,” said Boyd.  “I am just really struggling with this particular money that has not been used yet.”

Supervisor Duane Snow also expressed support for reconsideration.

“The problem I have with it…we are talking about closing libraries and cutting education… where is it better to spend that money?” asked Snow.

In the audience was the YMCA’s Executive Director, Denny Blank, who said he was surprised the issue came up so early in the budget presentation by staff.

“To have Rodney [Thomas] bring that up even before it hit the screen was surprising to me,” said Blank in an interview.  “We have worked with staff on this for years, and the fact it came up in the eleventh hour, well it is rather late in the game to withhold the funding.”

Blank and YMCA board Chairman Kurt Krueger said that the YMCA had already spent over half a million dollars on fees for the design of the facility and that they intend to break ground this summer.  The city has already approved the facility’s site plan.

“It is a 72,000 sq.ft. family recreation center with a gym, fitness facilities, community rooms, and a family aquatic center,” said Blank.

“In this era of budget woes, this partnership between the City, County, and the YMCA is a shining example of city-county co-operation, and it would be a shame to reverse that,” said Krueger.  “If you are a fiscal conservative, having the ability to get a $15 million recreation facility...for this seed money is exactly the kind of thing government ought to be looking at rather than doing it themselves.”

“This was a way we could provide substantial recreational amenities to citizens in the County without an ongoing operational expense and only a small percentage of capital expense,” said Supervisor Dennis Rooker who supports the project.  “This is kind of the ultimate, in my mind, of leveraging county dollars.”

One critic of the YMCA investment is County resident Clara Belle Wheeler.

“The Board needs to understand that a YMCA is not an absolute need in the community right now,” said Wheeler in an interview.  “Building it right now in McIntire Park would be a dastardly deed.  Paul Goodloe McIntire gave that land to be used as a park and a playground for the people of Charlottesville, not a Taj Mahal gymnasium.”

Attorney Larry Davis cut off the board’s discussion when he suggested a closed meeting if the board wished to assess the legal options related to the contract.

“We are going to provide them additional information and see if they want to talk about it further,” said Davis in an interview after the discussion. “There is no action in front of them unless they want to revisit the agreement.”

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