Commissioners Consider YMCA Purchase Proposal at Recreation Workshop
Crystal Lake Park Master Plan Also Being Reviewed
Last updated 6/24/2019 at 11:50am
Lake Wales City Commissioners are holding a recreation workshop Tuesday, June 25 to further discuss plans to purchase the local YMCA and to develop a master plan for Crystal Lake Park. The public meeting will start at 6 p.m. at the James P. Austin Center at 315 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
If officials can come to terms with the Y, the city would pay off the Lake Wales Family YMCA mortgage and lease the facilities back at $1 per year for the YMCA of West Central Florida to operate.
Assistant City Manager James Slaton and City Attorney Chuck Galloway have been negotiating terms with Y officials for about a year. The proposed operating agreement calls for the city to pay the Y an operating grant of $84,000 to subsidize 50 percent of the membership fees for in-city residents, plus the $36,000 the city currently pays for resident use of the Y swimming pool. The annual grant would be capped at $125,000. Slaton said he also plans to recommend a separate $25,000 line item in the city's recreation budget for additional subsidies for people who can't afford even the reduced price memberships.
"It's still kind of a working draft so we'll probably tweak it based on comments from commissioners," Slaton said.
After being approached in February 2018 about a possible partnership, city commissioners included $636,000 in their 2018-19 budget for the Y purchase, plus $250,000 for renovations and repairs. Slaton said a year later the mortgage payoff is now expected to be only $540,000.
Slaton said the 50 percent discount would be a benefit for city residents. If they chose not to join the Y, city residents would be able to access fee-based classes at member rates, Slaton said.
"We see this as an extension of our recreation programs," Slaton said. "Everybody in Lake Wales will have an opportunity to participate. That's one of the benefits of being a city resident."
City Commissioner Curtis Gibson said he wants to make sure the city is not just subsidizing people who already can afford Y memberships, but also making sure the recreational needs of lower income residents are addressed.
The Lake Wales Family YMCA has experienced financial problems since 2008 and in recent years the board contracted with the West Central group in Lakeland for management and operations. Slaton said if the city doesn't purchase the local YMCA facilities he fears the community could lose the program altogether. Slaton said the city would be gaining significant recreational assets at a fraction of the cost. The purchase would include a 25,790-square-foot building on 9.45 acres.
Slaton said the city has a shortage of recreational space and the Y already is working with the city to accommodate community groups using its soccer and youth football fields and basketball courts.
"It's going to create additional recreational opportunities that people don't have to join the YMCA to participate in," Slaton said.
In addition to the YMCA proposal, city commissioners Tuesday will take another look at a master plan for development around Crystal Lake Park. Workshop attendees will have an opportunity to express their opinions about both projects.
Slaton said city staff needs more input from the city commission before moving forward with the full Crystal Lake plan, which calls for trails around the lake behind the city library. The proposed plan also includes new tennis, racquetball, pickleball, volleyball and basketball courts, a splash pad, putt putt course, pavilions with restrooms, additional green space with picnic tables and a performance stage by Lake Wailes lake. Proposed concrete board walks leading to a pavilion in the middle of Crystal Lake drew criticism and have been scaled back in the most recent drawings.