City subsidy would help YMCA take over Springs pools

March 7, 2012
photo - Swimmers try to beat the heat Thursday, June 16, 2011,  at the Wilson Ranch Community Pool in the Rockrimmon area. Photo by CHRISTIAN MURDOCK, THE GAZETTE
Swimmers try to beat the heat Thursday, June 16, 2011, at the Wilson Ranch Community Pool in the Rockrimmon area. Photo by CHRISTIAN MURDOCK, THE GAZETTE 

The YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region appears poised to take over five city-owned pools and the manmade beach at Memorial Park with the help of a six-figure subsidy from the mayor’s office.

The financial contribution to the YMCA under the proposed agreement is a departure from Mayor Steve Bach’s recent stance on subsidies to other groups, including Homeward Pikes Peak and Accessible Coordinated Transportation. Those groups were recently informed that city funding would dry up in 2013.

Laura Neumann, the mayor’s chief of staff, said Wednesday in an email that the proposed subsidy for the YMCA is expected to shrink in the future.

“I believe that most highly qualified recreation/pool management companies would also estimate similar costs for the first full year based upon the research provided to me,” she said. “However we do believe the subsidy will lessen over time due to the YMCA’s operating experience and marketing reach and are prepared to write the contract to reflect that expectation.”

The proposed agreement states that the city will subsidize the YMCA for any year-end shortfall “to the point of a break-even status,” according to city documents.
“Based on proposed budgets, the subsidy is estimated at no more than $632,350 for 2012,” documents state.

The announcement of a proposed agreement with the YMCA comes just months after the city terminated a five-year contract with Swim Colorado Inc. The swim school took over operations of three city-owned pools in 2010 in what had been held up as a model public-private partnership.

Kevin Dessart, who co-owns the swim school with his wife, Tina, said the proposed agreement with the YMCA feels like a “kick in the gut.”

“To see that the city is offering that much money to the Y, of course it’s going to work. But it puts us back in the same situation it was before where it’s just costing taxpayer dollars now,” he said. “We didn’t get taxpayer dollars. We did this on our own.”

The agreement between the city and the Dessarts fell apart when the swim school struggled to keep up with the cost of utilities at the Aquatics and Fitness Center at Memorial Park.
“All we asked for them to do was cover utilities, which would have been a maximum $144,000 for a year,” Kevin Dessart said.

Councilwoman Brandy Williams said she wanted to know whether the proposed contract was competitively bid and whether the Dessarts had been given an equal opportunity.

“The reason the laws were set up the way that they are was to prevent people from getting into office and then simply handing contracts to people,” Williams said.

Neumann said the contract wasn’t competitively bid.

“We felt that this particular vendor had more operating expertise, more marketing breadth, and was a proven swim operator beyond any other we had spoken to,” she said, referring to the YMCA.

Councilman Merv Bennett, who retired as CEO of the local YMCA a year ago, said the only role he played in the proposed agreement was introducing former Parks Director Nancy Johnson to the new CEO.

When he was CEO, Bennett said the YMCA spent nine months looking at whether it could take over city pools when the city said it was looking for partners.

“When we looked at it, the cost of operating the way the city wanted it operated was going to be well over $1 million that we would have to subsidize,” he said. “I didn’t even want my staff to do the detailed work for something that at that time was not financially viable.”

Bennett said the proposed agreement with the YMCA seems to make financial sense now.
“I’ve read the proposals just as you have,” he said. “They look like they’ve worked out those details to me.”

The facilities the YMCA would operate under the proposed agreement are Cottonwood Creek Recreation Center, Aquatics and Fitness Center at Memorial Park, Portal Pool, Wilson Ranch Pool, Monument Valley Pool and Prospect Lake Beach at Memorial Park.

The city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department will make a formal presentation at the informal City Council meeting Monday. The council will be asked to approve the proposed agreement on first reading on Tuesday.

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