YMCA gets critical funding approval from council

Following lengthy discussion and deliberation, city council Monday night approved a resolution that saves the Sault YMCA from closure.

A 90-minute discussion ended with a 7-3 vote in favour of a resolution that will see the City and the Sault YMCA enter into a 10-year lease agreement and the City contribute up to $505,000 toward capital repairs to the McNabb YMCA, a total to be matched by the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC).

The City is taking on a “manageable risk” says Mayor Matthew Shoemaker, one he says costs less than the alternative, which was allowing the YMCA to close.

A charitable foundation is purchasing the YMCA, the building and property, a key in triggering the agreement. 

Under the lease agreement, the City will guarantee the Y’s lease payments. The City will sub-lease the building to the YMCA.

The plan also calls for the city to contribute $505,000 for capital repairs.

The third main component will see the YMCA’s tax exemption continue should the property become taxable under the ownership of the foundation.

City staff’s report says to be successful, the plan requires commitments from stakeholders, businesses and the public to generate 4,500 Y memberships.

The Sault YMCA currently has about 3,000 members. In the ‘90s, membership was north of 7,000.

Councillors for and against the resolution had pointed questions on both the YMCA’s lack of transparency prior to an April 16 announcement it would close due to its aging building, debt and operating costs, and why the City was being asked for funding when other avenues might be available.

Sault YMCA Board Chair Elise Schoefield and Director Jake D’Agostini both said they’re looking for the YMCA to move forward.

“Absolutely we got some hard-hitting questions but those are the kind of questions that need to be asked on an ongoing basis,” said Schofield.

“I think council was doing their due diligence to make sure that they were making the right decision,” said D’Agostini. “We were happy to be here to answer those questions. With this partnership moving forward I think we can have a sustainable YMCA that can continue to offer programs to the community.”

John Haddock, who had served as the Y’s interim Chief Executive Officer since last summer, completed his Y tenure on Friday. The CEO and Chief Financial Officer positions are currently unfilled, according to the Y’s website.

Ward 4 Councillor Marchy Bruni, in a motion seconded by Ward 1 Coun. Sandra Hollingsworth, sought to split the original resolution into two separate resolutions; one addressing the lease agreement, the other, $505,000 in funding the YMCA says its needs for new boilers and repairs to the roof of its 59-year-old building.

“The upgrades should come from the purchase of the building,” said Bruni. “I don’t understand why all of a sudden we need a million dollars.”

Ward 2 Coun. Luke Dufour asked Chief Administrative Officer Tom Vair what role the capital funds played in the lease agreement. Vair said without contributions from the City and NOHFC, the lease agreement would not proceed.

Ward 1 Coun. Sonny Spina asked if the YMCA could come up with the $505,000 through reserves or another avenue.

Vair replied it could not.

Vair explained city staff and YMCA officials will work together to try to stretch the capital funds to cover immediate needs, which includes new boilers and some roof repair, adding new boilers are the top priority.

Ward 3 Coun. Angela Caputo asked how the Y came to be in such a dire state and was the City being asked to provide money to people who had mismanaged it.

Vair replied the City and the YMCA were collaborating, adding the City would have a role in the governance of the YMCA.

The motion to split the resolution in two was defeated by a 6-4 vote.

Council then considered the original two-part resolution, which meant the Y would get capital funding and have a new lease agreement, or close its doors.

Coun. Dufour called the $505,000 capital investment “good use” of taxpayer dollars, without affecting the 2025 tac levy since the funds were being drawn from its contingency reserve. He also noted new boilers would hold their value and could be sold or moved to a new T facility.

Ward 2 Coun. Lisa Vezeau-Allen said it’s important for the community to understand the significant role the YMCA plays in the community, noting its many subsidized programs. 

She said the closing of the YMCA daycare would create a major issue with “hundreds and hundreds” currently on a waiting list for daycare spaces.

“For $505,000…I think we’re getting off rather cheaply for the continuation of services until we can find a better plan to move forward,” said Mayor Shoemaker.

Shoemaker said allowing the Y to close would ultimately cost the City far more than half a million dollars. He said finding alternatives for the Y’s 120 on-site daycare spaces “probably wouldn’t happen overnight.”

He said he could imagine off-site spaces operating under new ownership but not without significant cost and a long wait.

“We talk a lot about community partnerships and how good they are and how much we have to work harder to develop community partnerships instead of the municipality taking everything on, on its own,” said Shoemaker. “And what we have presented to us tonight is a community partnership. And we’re all squawking at it. Not all of us,” he added.

“It’s got all the ingredients of something we always talk about,” continued Shoemaker. “And it is less costly than the alternative. That’s the scenario that’s in front of us. We’re at a spot where I think we can get involved with some risk, but manageable risk over the course of the time frame that it will take to develop a better plan for a better facility.”

Community Services Director Brent Lamming told council that a new 40,000 sq ft YMCA would cost about $30 million.

The Mayor said it didn’t want to “litigate” how the YMCA reached its current crossroads. He said Schofield and D’Agostini had “taken bullets” for other Y officials and were not responsible for the facility’s financial predicament.

But he said it’s imperative the City take an active role in ensuring the YMCA never faces the same dire dilemma again.

“Frankly, I am eager to see the municipality oversee the balance sheet. I am eager to see the City require governance training or oversight of the management,” said Shoemaker. “I think all that needs to happen for any of us to be comfortable with this.

Obviously it didn’t happen overnight. It happened over the course of a long time and we don’t want it to happen again. For our staff to have oversight and to report back to us at regular intervals is something that would give council a lot of comfort to know that this won’t happen again.”

Schofield says in the short term, the YMCA has to “abide by and complete” regulations governing the sale of the building and the lease back, within 90 days.

D’Agostini says operationally, YMCA staff face a “large task” to roll back into business, with its regular programs and reinstating memberships.

“We are starting to offer summer programs again,” said D’Agostini. “Staff has been incredible through this whole process. They’ll have their hands full moving forward.”

Ali Dennie, who launched the ‘Save Our YMCA’ group on Facebook last month, was relieved the resolution passed.

“It was quite the show,” said Dennie. “Very eager to see the role that the group can take, moving forward with the membership drive. At this point, it seems all the other boxes are being checked. We just need the community to do their part and step in the membership drive and find-raising and corporate sponsorships.” 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *