YMCA’s future discussed at forum

Published 7:14 pm Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Atmore Mayor Jim Staff speaks Tuesday during a forum to discuss the future of the YMCA.

Atmore Mayor Jim Staff speaks Tuesday during a forum to discuss the future of the YMCA.

About 80 people filled the gymnasium at the Atmore Area YMCA on Tuesday night, coming together for a community forum to learn more about the YMCA’s future and determine what actions can be done to keep it open.

Several weeks ago, the YMCA’s board of directors announced that the YMCA would close Aug. 29 unless significant funding resources could be found before that date. On Tuesday, board treasurer Allen Walston specifically outlined the obstacles the YMCA is facing.

Walston said that the YMCA is currently running at a monthly deficit of $4,560, or about $54,720 per year. He estimated that the YMCA would need about $75,000 in outside donations to remain open for another year.

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“There’s no way to sugarcoat it,” he said. “We need money.”

Walston noted that the Rotary Club has pledged $5,000 and Alto Products has pledged $5,000 for this year, with plans to pledge an additional $6,000 for three to five years if that donation is matched by other businesses.

However, Walston said the need for money is immediate — the YMCA has some necessary expenditures that must be paid right away. As a result, the board has set a deadline of Aug. 4 to net the necessary $75,000 commitment to remain open for another year.

“We’re going to need some cash in hand to meet these needs,” he said.

Several citizens asked if the YMCA could simply raise enough money to stay open for another month or so, and allow more time to seek out additional funding for the future. Walston said the board was hesitant to do that, because donors would potentially lose their money if the YMCA only remains open for another few weeks.

Forum attendees also offered other ways that the YMCA could make up its deficit. Some asked if fees could be raised on members, and Walston said the board had looked at that option but decided against it.

Several citizens asked if the YMCA could sustain itself with additional members. Currently, there are 512 active memberships at the YMCA, and 1,245 members. YMCA CEO Paul Chason said it would likely take another 250 additional memberships in order to make up the projected annual deficit for 2014-15.

Coleman Wallace asked Walston if the YMCA had considered looking at other locations, such as a vacant storefront. Walston said the board had looked at several other potential rental spaces, but the cost of those rents was even higher than what the YMCA pays to maintain its current building each year.

Dale Ash asked if the city could collect a $2 tax for lodging, and earmark that money toward recreation. She noted that Selma had designed a similar solution when its YMCA faced dire straits.

Atmore Mayor Jim Staff told Ash that the city had heard about that idea and was currently investigating its legality.

Regardless of the future of the YMCA, its board members and CEO both agreed that remaining in the current building is not a viable future solution. It costs $52,300 per year just to maintain the building.

Bub Gideons pointed out that if each person in attendance got five friends to join the YMCA, then it would be enough additional members to keep it open.

“We can all go home tonight and find some friends to join,” he said.

At the end of the forum, moderator Keith Castleberry said he hoped that everyone in attendance would go home and ask friends and business colleagues to contribute whatever they can.

“This is the kind of problem that’s going to take a unified effort,” he said.