The fierce struggle to build a YMCA swim, gym and teen center on five acres of town-owned land in Rumsey Park took to the streets of Payson this week, with both sides ringing doorbells throughout town.
Supporters maintain the partnership with the YMCA represents the only way Payson will ever get a year-round pool, 6,500-square-foot gym and teen and family-oriented center complete with a music studio, rock-climbing wall, computer room and fitness machines.
Opponents say the town shouldn’t turn precious park land over to a private business, which could hurt potentially competing health clubs, even though the Y is a nonprofit organization.
“I just don’t think people should have to pay for anything in a public park,” said Judy Shafferkoetter, the vice chair of Friends of Payson, which gathered the signatures that forced the election. “I think the land should remain park land — end of story.”
But Bill Ensign, head of the Friends of Payson Parks and Recreation, said “The benefits Payson would see from the YMCA in town are endless. Our kids will have a place to go after school and in the summer and our seniors will have new avenues for socializing and keeping physically fit. It’s a win-win for Payson.”
As the long-debated election heats up in the form of Proposition 401, YMCA officials have released new details about the $5.6 million facility — including a detailed fee structure, facilities and hoped-for extras if fund-raising exceeds the goal.
At minimum, the YMCA has promised to continue public summer swim hours at $2 per person — which will save the town $130,000 in operating costs for the existing pool. In addition, the YMCA would pay a $10,000 annual lease fee to the town.
The YMCA would offer family memberships at $38 to $65 monthly, depending on income. Single adults and seniors could join for half that and kids not joining as part of a family plan could pay less than $10 monthly.
YMCA officials said they hope they can raise enough money to partner with the existing senior center or the school district to add features like a new senior facility or a place school or town-based swim teams could use.
YMCA officials say they already have been promised $1 million from a Valley foundation and have a fund-raising plan ready to go if Proposition 401 passes.
“The YMCA will be a willing partner,” said Valley of the Sun YMCA President George Scobas. “The YMCA will make this pool as accessible as possible.”
He estimated that 600 to 800 residents per day will use the facility, with seniors dominating in the morning, teens in the late afternoon and after-work adults in the evening.
“If the voters turn this down,” concluded Councilor John Wilson, “we don’t get an indoor recreation facility. Even when our finances were good, we didn’t have the funds to either build the facility or operate it after it was built. So a ‘yes’ vote means we can go ahead — and a ‘no’ vote means we don’t get anything — no rec center, no swimming pool — and with the town budget the way it is we may not even open the pool next year.”
However, opponents remain determined to defeat the proposed partnership between the town and the non-profit YMCA, which says almost every recently completed center has involved some kind of public-private partnership.
Use of park land is obstacle
Vickie Lucas, head of Friends of Payson, said, “our objection all along has been the use of park land. In our opinion, the public park lands belong to the people and we felt the voters should have a say-so about the disposition of it. And now it is up to the people in the community.”
The Nov. 4 vote will bring to a climax nearly two years of negotiation and controversy. After months of talks, the Town Council in July agreed to the broad outlines of a deal with the YMCA. The town council opted to save money by accepting a smaller pool and gym and giving up control over the facility in return for a deal that saved the town $140,000 while protecting existing summer swim hours.
A group of upset citizens then formed the Friends of Payson, gathered 1,600 signatures in several weeks and forced a vote on the issue. The YMCA sued to block the election and won its case in the local superior court, but lost on appeal.
So now the whole issue comes back to the voters. The basic elements of the deal include:
• Converting the existing Taylor Pool into a year-round facility, plus a “therapy” pool. The renovation would save the town the $130,000 operating cost for the summer swim season.
• The 30-year lease of five acres in Rumsey Park for the facility for $10,000 annually, with the land, pool and building reverting to town ownership at the end of that time.
• The construction of a 6,500-square-foot gym the town could use for its programs when it wasn’t booked, although that gym is smaller than the 10,000-square-foot gym the town wanted.
• The construction of additional fitness and recreational facilities for both seniors and teens, including a sound studio to make CDs, a computer center, weight and fitness machines and a rock-climbing wall.
• A site plan that would provide added parking and cut into a nearby hillside, forcing the removal of many pinions and junipers, but protecting mature ponderosa pines.
Views of the measure differ sharply
Shafferkoetter said residents don’t want the town to subsidize a private business. “I walked to 400 houses yesterday — more than six miles,” she said. “Only one person said they were going to vote for it.”
She said she would oppose any use of public land for a YMCA facility — but especially park land. “They should not be giving the park away for a business that’s going to be charging to use the park. Instead of asking for $5.6 million for the YMCA’s building, why not ask for contributions to enclose the pool or resurface it — it can’t be that much money.”
However, Payson Unified School District board member Rory Huff, who heads a citizen’s committee established to support the YMCA partnership, said the plan represents the only chance to build urgently needed facilities for kids.
“The schools are very interested in bringing the YMCA into town, the shortage of facilities has made things very difficult,” said Huff.
Ensign said his group realized years ago the town could never afford such a facility on its own.
He said the deal isn’t a subsidy, since it will save the town $140,000 annually. That works out to about $4.2 million over the course of the lease. Various estimates have put the value of the land at about $1-2 million. However, the town can’t actually sell the land, which the Forest Service donated for recreation. The Forest Service has already approved a possible lease to the YMCA.
“The YMCA would provide a year-round indoor pool that would remain open and available, regardless of community and financial hardships,” concluded Ensign.
Councilor Wilson said the vote may turn out to be a good thing, if it boosts fund-raising. “I’m hoping that we have an overwhelming vote saying ‘yes,’ because the real vote lies in whether we can raise the money or not. If this fails, it will be five or 10 years before we can think about it again. I’ve raised two grandchildren here and we saw the need for a place for healthy activities — and the seniors will benefit too.”
However, opponents remain unconvinced.
“Putting this in Rumsey Park bothers me a lot more than putting it some place like the Event Center,” said Lucas, “but I still don’t think the town should be involved in a commercial enterprise like that.”
“We don’t want to give away our park land for any amount of money,” said Shafferkoetter.