Commissioners postpone YMCA vote yet again

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DeKalb County commissioners and residents were clearly divided June 10 on whether to approve a $5 million public/private partnership with the South DeKalb YMCA to help the facility implement improvements.

The Board of Commissioners did not have the required votes to pass the item, which will come before the board again June 24.

“I encourage you to ask why is it the YMCA can raise money on a regional basis for facilities in certain areas of the county but for some reason they think that they can’t raise money for facilities in south DeKalb County,” Commissioner Jeff Rader said.

If approved, the partnership will be funded through the use of county parks bonds designated for green space acquisition. Rader said the partnership was a business decision, not a public policy one and county taxpayers should not be required to foot the bill.

Additionally, Rader said, the South DeKalb YMCA would not be performing any drastic renovations to its facilities.

“I think that it’s regrettable that the people of DeKalb are being polarized in this way,” Rader said.

Commissioner Kathie Gannon, who voted against the proposal, said the partnership was not made public until several months ago when the item appeared on the commissioners’ agenda.

“There is a lot of emotion going around this room and when you’re encouraged to make decisions based on emotions instead of facts, you get in trouble,” Gannon said.

Additionally, Gannon said there are parks and recreation centers in disrepair located throughout the county that have been told there isn’t money to update their facilities.

“I’m not going to support this; I cannot support this, the facts do not allow me to support this,”

Decatur resident Mary Shellman, who is a member of the county’s parks bonds committee, said the deal needs to be studied further.

“I’m not convinced this is a solid investment for the county and I still don’t feel that I have all the facts,” Shellman said. “The greater Atlanta YMCA should pay for these upgrades themselves like they did with the other Y’s in the area instead of coming to the county for a taxpayer handout.”

At the June 10 commission meeting, several residents in support of the partnership said the proposal was no different than the county’s partnership with the Wade Walker YMCA several years ago. DeKalb County Interim CEO Lee May said the partnership is an “identical deal.”

However, Shellman said the deal between the county and the Wade Walker YMCA was much different, stating the facility was built on park land owned by the county. Additionally, she said that the Wade Walker YMCA was built in a “needs assessed area” and the county already had plans for a recreation center in the area.

Commissioners Larry Johnson and Stan Watson both expressed their support for the proposal, as well as DeKalb County NAACP President John Evans and representatives from the DeKalb County School District.

“It’s a win-win-win for everyone involved, especially for the Y in terms of building capacity,” said Eston Hood, chief operating officer of the YMCA of Metro Atlanta.

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