The MDI YMCA and the Jesup Memorial Library have requested substantial increases in funding from the town of Bar Harbor for the next fiscal year. ISLANDER PHOTO BY LIZ GRAVES

YMCA, library funding debated

BAR HARBOR — The Town Council teed up a debate for the floor of town meeting in June when they voted Jan. 26 to partially grant funding increase requests to the YMCA and the Jesup Memorial Library.

Councilor Gary Friedmann tied the YMCA funding request to another funding increase request for the Jesup Memorial Library that the council tentatively approved in December.

Both groups have requested increases of around $50,000 for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Councilors voted to increase the town contribution to each by $25,000, which lowers the recommended funding for the library from the level they set in December.

“I don’t think as a council we can responsibly recommend the full increases” for both organizations, Friedmann said, arguing that the decision should go to town meeting.

“We should recommend substantial increases in both budgets. This gets the conversation started, sends it through the process,” he said.

The move was approved in a 4-3 vote. Councilors Burt Barker, Friedmann, Paul Paradis and Peter St. Germain voted in favor, and Anne Greenlee, Matt Hochman and Clark Stivers were opposed.

A previous motion to increase town support for the Y by $25,000 and keep the library support at the level decided in December failed in a 4-3 vote. Barker, Greenlee and Hochman voted in favor of that move. Friedmann, Paradis, St. Germain and Stivers were opposed.

Members of the YMCA board of directors spoke at the Jan. 24 council budget workshop to ask for more town support for the Y, from $48,000 currently in the draft budget for next year to $100,000. The request includes another jump to $150,000 the following year.

Councilors discussed the request and asked for further information but did not take action on the request until the Jan. 26 meeting.

“We know we are late presenting this request,” said a memo from Y directors and staff to councilors ahead of the Jan. 24 presentation. “We have been working diligently to avoid it, but we have come to the conclusion that we have no choice. Our current business model is unsustainable.”

The town contribution to the YMCA makes up 3.5 percent of the Y’s annual budget, about 60 percent comes from membership dues and program income, and 25 percent comes from fundraising.

“We are living off our modest endowment and a bank line of credit,” the memo said.

Two full-time positions have been eliminated in efforts to cut the budget, one in program planning and one in the preschool program.

The YMCA charges membership fees, but a memorandum of understanding between the town and the Y requires some use of Y facilities and programs free for Bar Harbor residents. In this capacity, the Y serves as a de facto recreation department for the town.

One of those free programs is after-school access to the Y for youths in grades three through seven. That program “stays pretty full,” YMCA Executive Director Tommy Parham told the Islander this week. They have recently added more part-time staff to supervise that group.

Other services for nonmember Bar Harbor residents include free swimming twice per week and use of the indoor track at least once per week. Public restrooms, water fountains and community events such as the spring Healthy Kids Day are also part of the deal.

“A lot of people had no idea about those free services,” Councilor Matt Hochman said. Many comments he received on a “Citizens for a Better Bar Harbor” Facebook page were skeptical about the request, he said.

“We hear you,” Y board member Ron Wrobel said. “There’s definitely a love/hate relationship with the Y. We’re terrible at listening, reacting and improving. We know we’ve got to make changes whether or not we have your help.”

“That was all good information to learn,” Parham said of the Facebook comments. He said the debate has spotlighted a need for the Y to better promote and communicate its activities and offerings.

The current YMCA facility is on town land, which the Y leases for a dollar a year. It was built in 2007, and is beginning to show its wear, board members said. YMCAs tend to lose members when they don’t update their facilities every seven years, they said.

Leaders of both the Y and the library said having their requests tied together made for an awkward situation. Jesup Director Ruth Eveland said her organization had designed their approach “specifically so that we didn’t have to have a situation on the floor of town meeting.” Jesup provides its services to residents at no cost.

At the 2009 town meeting, a motion to increase the town’s contribution to the YMCA passed on a voice vote after a move to vote on the increase by written ballot failed.

“I’d recommend not pursuing town meeting,” Wrobel said. “People that have issues with us dislike us even more when that happens. We have to start changing hearts and minds.”

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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