Why a new YMCA in Lynden?
As soon as I saw the signs on Delft Square announcing the new YMCA, many questions came to mind.
1. First, why build a brand new YMCA now?
We are in a deep recession with foreclosures, unemployment and personal debt at an all-time high. One in six county residents is on food stamps. It will cost $70-$100 yearly for the average homeowner for the 30 next years to repay the $9.5 million bond measure. This might not seem bad; however, this tax would be on top of the proposed road tax and other already high tax rates. Because of terrible financial management at most levels of government, taxes are already high and increasing rapidly.
2. Why no bidding process?
According to the Aug. 8 Lynden Tribune, two of the three Delft Square owners, Jeff Johnson and Pete Dawson, will be the developer and builder for the project. What a sweet deal! Selling Delft Square is a windfall for them, but getting the building contract is really a bonus. Again, why is there no bidding process? Accepting bids from qualified competitors usually gives the buyer -- that would be us, the taxpayers -- the best deal and enhances trust. Third-party oversight is a step in the right direction but is an added expense, and cost containment is one of the pitfalls of a negotiated contract of this nature. Apparently, Mr. Dawson's construction company has some experience building public buildings. Since it's rare for public facilities to be built with a high degree of efficiency, it would be good to know Mr. Dawson's track record for cost-effectiveness.
3. What is the best organization to run a recreational facility?
The YMCA in Whatcom country is a highly regarded non-profit. However, has the city reviewed recent YMCA audits, statistics on monthly usage, and ratings from organizations that evaluate non-profits? How efficient in use of funds is the current YMCA? What percentage of Lynden residents uses the facility? The YMCA will rent the new multi-million dollar facility from the city for just $1 a year -- another sweet deal. Before agreeing to $9.5 million, taxpayers need to be sure we're getting the best bang for our very scarce buck.
4. Why Delft Square in downtown Lynden?
The obvious reason is that the city council hopes to enhance business downtown. Good for them; none of us likes seeing boarded-up buildings in our lovely town, and the current merchants are in a truly difficult situation. Before plunking down our money, has the city done some research to show that a new YMCA will attract enough business to justify $9.5 million in debt? Is the typical YMCA patron someone who will, indeed, be likely to spend dollars downtown? And using projections from the current YMCA's numbers, how big a boost to downtown traffic can we expect?
5. Is this the best location?
The current Y location seems ideal: available parking, close to schools, adjacent to the tennis courts, and the city park.
How long will the current YMCA serve us if it is well maintained? Like my own home, it's not fancy, but it's paid for. Could we earmark funds in order to pay cash for a new recreational facility rather than go into debt? The Lynden YMCA just spent part of the summer completely renovating the swimming pool. How do I know this? I am a YMCA member and I watched from the exercise room.
Recently, a friend was helping her daughter look for a starter home. One foreclosed home was solidly built but sadly in need of repair -- peeling paint, moldy carpets, broken windows. To their astonishment, outside, was a beautiful new pool. So, the lesson is, count the cost before building, and don't go into debt to build a pool.
Financial counselor Dave Ramsey advises people to cut up credit cards, systematically pay bills, and, under no circumstances, acquire new debt. In a culture weighted with personal and government debt, that is good advice. Would the renovation of Delft Square for a new YMCA be a good business investment for Lynden? Possibly, but a $9.5 million debt is a whole lot to risk without having some questions answered.
Anne Culbertson is a Lynden resident and owner of APC Marketing and a YMCA member.