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City's final agreement with YMCA to be hashed out at Monday council meeting

A new memorandum of understanding between the city and YMCA will be finalized
Paint peels off a letter on the YMCA sign outside its McNabb Street building.

Representatives from the Sault Ste. Marie YMCA will appear before city council on Monday before a key vote that will determine what role the city will have as the organization looks to the future.

In May, city council voted to help to keep the Y from closing. Under the plan, a charitable foundation, now revealed to be the Dr. Lou and Mae Lukenda Charitable Foundation, would purchase the McNabb Street building for $2 million ($1 million below the asking price) then lease it back to the YMCA for 10 years at $100,000 per year.

Under the plan, the city has agreed to backstop the lease, as well as provide up to $505,000 for capital repairs — which could then be leveraged to access a further $495,000 in funding from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation.

But in order for the plan to work, the YMCA had to grow its membership list of roughly 1,500 to approximately 2,400 — proof that it could remain sustainable in the long-term.

Over the last several weeks, hundreds of memberships have been sold but the Sault Y was still 365 short as of Wednesday.

Councillors were originally asked during the May 13 meeting to vote in favour of handing over the full $505,000 for the repairs, but Mayor Matthew Shoemaker made an amendment on the floor to add the words 'up to' before the figure, with hopes that the Sault Y would contribute and bring the down the burden on the taxpayers.

"If there is any ability to contribute even 10 per cent of that I think would go a long way," said Shoemaker at the May 13 council meeting about the possibility of the Sault Y fundraising to help bring the $505,000 contribution from the city down.

Later, Shoemaker opened the door to contributions from outside entities when he added: "If we approve up to 500,000. I think that also allows the opportunity for capital contributions to the building from outside folks who are willing to do so."

The funding is being pulled from an unexpected budget surplus and would not have an additional impact on taxpayers over and above what was already contributed, it was noted at the time.

The next step is a presentation by city staff of a memorandum of understanding to council on Monday, which will spell out the city's governance role with the Sault Y moving forward, as well as the reporting responsibilities the organization will have to the city.

Should the bailout plan move ahead, the Sault YMCA is also expected to enter into negotiations for a management agreement with an as-yet unnamed regional YMCA to "add capacity and resources in functional areas like finance, human resources, governance, philanthropy and subject matter expertise in operational areas like health and wellness and child care."

A $250,000 donation by Algoma Steel announced on Tuesday will be applied to the Sault Y's $1.5 million 'Bridge to our Future' campaign, said acting general manager Jared MacSween in an email.

When asked if any of that funding would be used to lessen the $505,000 burden on taxpayers, MacSween did not say that it would.

"I can't speak to how the municipal government will decide to continue supporting the YMCA, we have always valued our relationship with them and consider them a significant stakeholder," said MacSween.

MacSween said the funds from the city are intended to assist with capital expenditures only, not operations.

"The Y, along with support from NOHFC (to be confirmed), will cover the remaining costs required for necessary repairs and upgrades to our facility needed now," he said in the emailed response.

The 'Bridge to our Future' campaign seeks to raise $1.25 million of its $1.5 million goal toward capital investments for ongoing repairs and maintenance of the current building, along with $100,000 in membership and program subsidies. A further $150,000 is allotted for membership partnerships which is intended to go toward operating costs for the organization.

Asked if the city has acquired a seat or seats on the Sault Y's board of directors, city CAO Tom Vair said that information will be provided in a report to council for its Monday meeting.

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Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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