YMCA decision delayed

Council will wait before deciding if $17.5 million in funding available.

A decision on a new YMCA facility for Abbotsford has been postponed for at least another week.

Council decided to defer a request for $17.5 million in funding to create a 55,000-square-foot facility on the site of the old MSA Hospital on McCallum Road.

The YMCA has asked the city to partner in the project, with $17.5-million half the approximate cost of $35 million. The YMCA would pay all operating costs, worth an estimated $140 million over 40 years.

While councillors seemed to agree that the YMCA’s offer was an attractive deal, and the programs offered by the organization, including childcare, would benefit the community, many were concerned by the expense.

“It’s the $17.5 million of taxpayers’ money that we would be contributing to a charitable organization, as good as you are, that’s problematic for me,” said Coun. Henry Braun.

One of his concerns is that the city-funded YMCA would be in “direct competition” with privately owned fitness facilities and city-run recreation centres.

Braun noted the city already pays millions each year to subsidize the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre and the Abbotsford Heat hockey club.

“In addition to that, we’re coping with roughly $4 million for principal and interest (on the centre).”

He said combined the total is about $8 million a year.

“My heart would love to do everything I could to help you. My head tells me I can’t.”

Other councillors agreed.

Coun. Moe Gill said the YMCA would serve the community in the long run, but the money just isn’t available at this time.

“Sometimes you have to give up things to make sure that you prevent the taxpayers from paying any more,” said Gill.

Coun. Patricia Ross said she had some concern regarding the project, because in order to include it in the current proposed financial plan, staff have removed the creation of a new building for the Abbotsford Police.

“I have a real issue with us picking this over a police building expansion that the police have needed for many years.”

But city manager Frank Pizzuto said a new police building is still being discussed.

“The police building initiative will come forward as a separate initiative and we are looking at ways that the police building can move forward and it would not be in the traditional financing sense,” said Pizzuto.

Pizzuto said more details will be presented to council at a later date. However, he did say that staff are looking at private development and contributions for the project.

An equal number of councillors praised the project, noting the long-term benefits would be worth the investment.

Coun. John Smith voiced strong support for the idea, but also asked council to defer the matter until Coun. Bill MacGregor returned from overseas.