A cash-strapped Payson Town Council brought years of talks to a climax Wednesday when it agreed in principle to lease five acres and Taylor Pool to the YMCA, which has agreed to raise $5.6-million to build a gym, fitness center and year-round pool.
The YMCA would remodel and enclose Taylor Pool in Rumsey Park so it could stay open year-round to YMCA members. The pool would still remain open to the general public five afternoons per week during the summer. The YMCA would also build a 6,500-square-foot gym, fitness center, rock climbing wall and play pool for the 800 members it would have to sign up to make the facility pay off.
The YMCA would pay the town $10,000 annually for the use of the land and the pool, valued at more than $2 million. The agreement would give the town far less control over the facility than earlier proposals, but would save Payson the $160,000 it now spends to operate the pool.
The council is considering spending some of that savings on grants to town residents to use on fitness activities, like joining the YMCA or other health clubs. The money the would probably cost somewhere between $35 and $75 per month.
"This is the best deal we could get with what we have in our budget," said Councilman John Wilson.
"It seems we're gaining an awful lot," said Councilor Su Connell, "and it's not costing the taxpayers anything. We're being given a golden apple that has been polished. I would think this is a win/win."
But Councilor Mike Vogel, who cast the lone no vote, said the council should back the town's negotiating team, which wanted to hold out for a seven-day-a-week summer public swim program.
"Let me get this straight: We're telling our negotiating team to accept their terms and go work it out? In 35 years of negotiating agreements, I've never seen a council vote on the opposition's terms."
However, Mayor Kenny Evans supported the proposed terms, especially since the town could no longer afford to run the pool at the cost of about $1,700 per day during the summer. Moreover, the plan to use some of the savings to subsidize residents' health rather than the YMCA's operations was groundbreaking, he said.
"Showing we're serious about wellness is a profound shift in philosophy," said Evans. "The idea of shifting that subsidy to the residents instead of one facility is a significant step forward."
The council accepted the key conditions of the proposal and directed the town's negotiating committee to go back and work out the details of the lease, which should then come back to the council for action within about a month, said Evans.
The town essentially gave up most of its early demands for partial control of the facility and a gym big enough to host a range of town recreation programs. The council even essentially overruled its own negotiating team, which had insisted on a daily summer swim program comparable to what Taylor Pool now offers.
The town's negotiating team was seeking council approval of the major negotiated terms, plus direction on whether to accept the YMCA's suggestion that it cut the summer public swim hours by two days a week -- and probably reduce the number of people accommodated from about 220 a day to 165.
Councilor Vogel vigorously opposed a vote that would undercut the position of the town's own negotiating team. He also objected to reports that YMCA representatives had continued to discuss the terms with individual council members. During an executive session several months ago, council members had been admonished against negotiating separately on specific terms -- a suggestion repeated in a public council session several weeks ago when the council directed town staff to accelerate its negotiations.
But Vogel grilled YMCA attorney Cameron Carter on whether he or anyone else on the YMCA team had talked to individual council members.
"You're not going to like this question: But did anybody on your team contact anyone up here?" he said, indicating the rest of the council.
"We have discussed things with council members," said Carter carefully.
Councilor Ed Blair took exception to Vogel's remarks. "I'm sorry my friend Mike is upset about which people talk to us. But he doesn't have the right to say who should talk to me."
Speaking for the YMCA, Carter said the organization had to "draw the line" at the town's push to continue a daily summer swim program, since the YMCA would lose money for every day it offered the public swim program.
That's because the YMCA's insurance coverage required it to provide one lifeguard for every 10 people in the pool. So the heavy staffing for a program that would draw 165 potential swimmers would force the facility to operate at a loss throughout the summer. Limiting the summer swim days to five a week would reduce that loss, he said.
In the end, the council agreed that the YMCA's low rates and sliding scales based on income levels would ensure that residents would have many more recreational opportunities than under the existing arrangement.
However, Vogel said the council should not have undercut the negotiating team by having individual conversations with YMCA members and then rejecting the town's own negotiating position.
"I just hope I never have to negotiate anything for this town," groused Vogel.
"Mr. Vogel doesn't want to play poker in public," joked Mayor Evans.
"Not with three councilors behind me telling them what my cards are," Vogel retorted.