Gym operators lobby against YMCA funding

February 22, 2000|By SCOTT BUTKI

Local gym operators tried to convince the Washington County Commissioners Tuesday that it would be unwise and unfair to give money to the Hagerstown YMCA.

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"Don't we have some debts to pay?" asked Eric Easton, operator of Gold's Gym. "Aren't there other places where the money is more needed right now?"

After the meeting, two of the speakers said they expect the commissioners to give the nonprofit YMCA the requested $750,000 in three annual installments for an $8.8 million building on Eastern Boulevard.

"I don't think it's going to stop it," said Easton, spokesman for the newly created Small Businesses Together for the Community, a six-member organization of area gyms and child care centers.


"They are not going to change their mind," said Lori Thomas, owner of The Sports Connection Health and Fitness Center.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said the County Commissioners will vote on a YMCA funding request in the next few months. Although not formally approved, the money is included in the proposed six-year capital improvement program.

Easton began his presentation by asking the County Commissioners if the $750,000 was money sitting around unneeded and unused. He was told that the proposed $20.6 million capital improvement program for next year calls for using $13 million in general obligation bonds.

In that case, he said, the county should use the money for other purposes, such as schools.

He said county funding for the YMCA building would give the YMCA an unfair advantage over competing organizations.

While group members oppose county money going to the YMCA that doesn't mean they oppose the YMCA, he said.

"This is not YMCA bashing," Thomas agreed.

Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger, a member of the YMCA board of directors, spoke in the YMCA's defense.

"The 'Y' focuses on families and youth," Iseminger said. He said he sees the YMCA as complementing, not competing with, gyms and child care centers.

Easton said his gym also offers programs for children and families.

"I think we're addressing more needs of the community then most people realize," he said.

Commissioner William J. Wivell said he can't believe the county is even considering donating money to the YMCA.

"To consider something that is a non-necessity... is really amazing," he said. "There is this perception that we have $750,000 just sitting there. We don't ... We have to learn to say no."

YMCA Executive Director Mike Flicek attended Tuesday's meeting but did not speak.

He said later that he thinks the YMCA is different enough from other businesses, and has done enough for the community, to justify the funding request.

"We certainly believe the YMCA has been a community asset for many years," he said.

Ground is expected to be broken for the YMCA project around May, Flicek said.

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