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Taxpayers asked to build private organization’s swimming pools

Taxpayers asked to build private organization’s swimming pools

Wayne Hoffman
October 14, 2016
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October 14, 2016

In November, Meridian voters will say yea or nay as concerns a bond measure that would pay for new "public" swimming pools. Is there demand for such? No one knows. Even the taxing district that put the $20-million pool-construction bond measure on the ballot can’t answer the most basic question: How many people will use the pools? Western Ada Recreation District Chairman Charlie Rountree couldn’t even offer a guess until Friday, when he estimated that between 300-400 people a day would use one pool.

So who really wants it? The answer: the YMCA. A couple of years ago, the YMCA looked to build a new recreation center in Meridian. Finally, later this month, ground will be broken for the center. But, according to the Idaho Statesman, the YMCA “struggled to raise money for a pool to accompany the rest of the YMCA project, so last year, it approached the Western Ada Recreation District, which already operates a pool in Meridian.”

Said another way, short of funds, the YMCA seeks to tap that well where there are seemingly deep funds aplenty: taxpayers. In the Western Ada Recreation District, property owners currently shell out about $9 per $100,000 annually in taxable value; if the $20-million bond passes, they can expect at least another $14 per year added onto their tax bill, all for the benefit of the YMCA.

Going to Idaho taxpayers to subsidize the YMCA is not a new phenomenon. In west Boise, the city owns the pool that the YMCA operates. Taxpayers also paid for YMCA facilities in Caldwell and Mountain Home. This variety of subsidization is part of a larger, national trend. In Minnesota, Georgia and Texas, taxpayers have been asked to help subsidize YMCA facilities. That’s in addition to federal grants the organization has received.

Much of this taxpayer support is based on the YMCA’s relatively good reputation in communities it serves. But, were it any other organization, these deals would be labeled for what they are: corporate welfare. This is no different than taxpayers being asked to subsidize a sports arena for an NFL or NBA team. In the case of Meridian, the YMCA is constructing a recreation center and, if the bond measure passes in November, taxpayers will pay for the Y’s pool. There’s a good deal of pretending that the projects aren’t connected. Make no mistake, they are connected. Taxpayers are literally building a pool for a private organization, the YMCA.

Of course, David Duro, CEO of the Treasure Valley YMCA, doesn’t quite see the matter the same way. In an email Duro stated, “The taxpayers have no ongoing liability or subsidy (for the) operations. So I do think it would be wrong to think that taxpayers are subsidizing the operation of the pools, but,” he continues, and readily admits, “[taxpayers] are paying for the construction of the pools.”

Actually, with all due respect, Duro has it half right. As it all stands, taxpayers of the recreation district would have a liability -- but they’re not being told about it. Duro says a given pool, like those being contemplated for Meridian, can be expected to operate on a loss of $250,000 to $400,000 annually. In this instance, the YMCA says it will cover the costs of the operating losses. But the burden as to who will cover any operating losses is part of an agreement that has not been written, let alone signed, between the YMCA and the Western Ada Recreation District.

At a recent meeting of the Western Ada Recreation District board, Aaron Elton, who is leading the pro-pool campaign, bemoaned the fact that voters are confused about whose pool they’re being asked to fund.

Elton relayed, “There’s a misperception of ‘isn’t this the Y’s pool?’” To which the Idaho Freedom Foundation responds, it’s not a misperception. It’s reality.

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