A group of citizens has reportedly gathered 1,300 signatures on petitions calling for a special election to block the construction of a YMCA gym and pool complex on town-owned land in Rumsey Park.
Signature gatherers only needed about 540 signatures to force a special election on the measure, but Vicki Lucas said that almost everyone they contacted in a town-wide door-to-door petition drive proved eager to sign.
"They all want to vote on it," said Lucas of the people who signed the petitions circulated by a group of about 30 people. "There were some who said they wanted a Y in town, but not in the park. That's the real sticking point -- the park land."
The Town Council hasn't actually come to terms with the YMCA to build a $5.6 million pool, gym and fitness center complex on about five acres of town-owned land in Rumsey Park. Under the terms of an agreement still being negotiated, the YMCA would raise the money, build a 6,500-square-foot gym, cover and enclose the existing Taylor Pool and build an additional family play pool -- in addition to adding features like an exercise room and a rock-climbing wall.
Park advocates originally asked the YMCA to build in Payson and the town has been negotiating fitfully for more than a year. The town originally wanted a larger gym and control of the facility 30 to 40 percent of the time. However, the most recently disclosed terms would give the YMCA control of the facility all year long, but retain public swimming in the summer for roughly the same amount of time the town now operates Taylor Pool.
In the most recent version, the town would save the roughly $160,000 cost of operating Taylor Pool and collect a lease payment from the YMCA of $10,000 annually.
The town council has discussed converting much of that savings into some kind of "fitness" grant for town residents that could be used to subsidize membership in any health club or facility in town.
A consultant's study had estimated the town could build similar facilities on its own for $8 to $10 million, but would also have to pay annual operating costs of about $600,000.
The citizens group started gathering petitions after the council approved a list of negotiating points. The town attorney has said that since the petitions referred to that list of negotiating points the petitions could become invalid if the final agreement differs significantly from those negotiating points.
Nonetheless, the Town Council at its last meeting started the process of calling a special election in November, in case the opponents of the deal did gather enough signatures. The council had to make the measure an "emergency" ordinance to get the question on the November ballot. The special election will cost the town an estimated $40,000.
Lucas said that if the petitions are disqualified as a result of a change in the terms of the deal, she and the other critics of the use of town-owned land for a YMCA will circulate new petitions.
She said almost everyone she talked to wanted a chance to vote on the project. "I would say a strong 90 percent don't want to give up parkland -- and a lot of those also don't like the unfair advantage the YMCA would have over existing businesses."
She said she didn't know the town would have to spend $40,000 for a special election when she started to circulate the petitions.
"That certainly wasn't our intent. We were under the impression it could be added to the regular ballot -- but it wouldn't have stopped us if we'd have known."
She said the group hasn't yet decided whether to campaign actively for the measure before the election. It would depend on whether the YMCA or any other group campaigned actively in favor of the project prior to the election, she said."
She said she couldn't say whether her group would campaign "until I see whether there is a need or not. If there is an active campaign in support of the Y going into Rumsey, then we will be as active as we can be."
Representatives for the YMCA have said they would welcome a public vote and would make a strong effort to explain the benefits of the arrangement to the voters.
In addition, Friends of Payson Parks and Recreation, a local citizens group, has pushed strongly for the deal with the YMCA. Backers argue that the town can barely afford to operate Taylor Pool at present and the partnership with the YMCA represents the only real chance of getting the needed facilities in town.
The YMCA completed a feasibility study and concluded that it couldn't afford to buy land to construct a YMCA. However, the study estimated that with a free or low-cost lease from the town, the YMCA could operate successfully by attracting 800 members, each paying $35 to $55 per month.