Controversial agreement with YMCA brings out friends, foes

Jennifer Ffrench-Parker | 6/6/2014, 6:13 a.m.
DeKalb commissioners are set to vote on June 10 on a controversial public-private agreement that calls for the county to ...
John Leak, a member of the Parks Bond Funds advisory committee, took issue with the county’s agreement with the South DeKalb YMCA. Photo by Jennifer Ffrench-Parker

DeKalb commissioners are set to vote on June 10 on a controversial public-private agreement that calls for the county to use $4.95 million of green space funds to purchase the South DeKalb YMCA and lease it back to the YMCA for $1 a year for up to 50 years.

Under the plan, the county will purchase the 18 acres on which the South DeKalb Y sits with $4 million in countywide acquisition funds from the 2001 and 2006 Parks Bond Funds.

District 3 and 7 Commissioners Larry Johnson and Stan Watson, who represent the area, are putting in the balance from their district’s green space allocations from the 2001 Bond Fund.

Watson is chipping in $651,842, and Johnson, $307,250.

Their $959,092 contributions exhaust all the land acquisition money for their districts.

Eston Hood, the YMCA of Metropolitan Atlanta’s chief operating officer, said the YMCA will use the $4.95 million to expand and renovate the South DeKalb YMCA on Snapfinger Road in Decatur to offer more services to youth, teens, adults and seniors.

At the last of two public information sessions sponsored by Johnson and Watson at the Maloof Auditorium on June 4, residents for and against the agreement weighed in on the proposed purchase.

Supporters of the county’s purchase of the land point to the YMCA’s long history of caring for the community’s children. Those opposed said it was a sweet deal for the YMCA and improper use of the Parks Bond Funds.

John Leak, a 44-year Decatur resident, questioned the process that kept the county’s own Parks Bond Funds advisory committee in the dark. Leak, who serves on that committee, said he and other members found out about the purchase in an April 12, 2014, CrossRoadsNews front-page article.

He said he visited the Wade Walker YMCA that was built with $18 million of county funds in 2012 and was told that he could not enter if he wasn’t a member.

“I just wanted to walk on the indoor track,” he said. “But I was told by the young lady at the desk that ‘this is the Y’s building and you have to be a member to come in here.’”

Leak said the proposed partnership is a massive one for which the county will get $500 over 50 years while the YMCA’s financial disclosures show that it is flush with cash.

“Why can’t the Y stroke the check,” he asked. “Why depend on Uncle DeKalb? This thing needs another look. We are unequally yoked in this thing. Send this deal back and make sure the taxpayers’ interest is being represented.”

DeKalb NAACP President John Evans said that the YMCA is like “mother and apple pie.”

“We support the YMCA,” he said. “You just need to get four votes and let us go on about our business.”

Alvin Dollar said his 40-year-old children grew up at the South DeKalb Y.

“I can’t see why my community would not support the partnership.” he said. “I want you to give my public dollars to this project.”