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Citizens Debate Arizona Town’s Plan to Build YMCA

PAYSON, AZ -- A debate is brewing in Payson, AZ, over that town’s plan to lease 5 acres of land in a local park to the YMCA.

The Payson Roundup reports that the agreement would give the YMCA a 30-year lease of 5 acres, including a pool. In return, the YMCA would build a gym, teen center, recreation center, fitness room and climbing wall. The plan also calls for the YMCA to remodel, heat and enclose the pool to make it a year-round facility, the newspaper reports. The YMCA would pay $10,000 a year and take over running the summer swim program, saving the town $130,000 annually, according to the newspaper.

Advocates for the YMCA say the partnership is the only chance to get a year-round pool, teen center and infusion of $5.6 million to build needed facilities for kids and families. Critics of the plan say a town-subsidized YMCA would hurt existing health clubs and siphon money from local charities, the newspaper reports.

Ken Echols, the owner of the 1,000-member Payson Athletic Center, said at a recent public debate, “To say it won’t hurt our business, that’s wrong. This isn’t fair.” Echols also said that his club, which charges $20 to $30 per month, already is struggling. The YMCA would charge $38 to $65 per month for families, half that for single adults and seniors, and rates for individual kids below $10 monthly. The YMCA occasionally waives fees for low-income families.

Most Payson residents have received a mail-in special election ballot challenging the agreement between the town and the YMCA, according to the newspaper. Rory Huff, a Payson School Board member who heads a group supporting the YMCA, said at the debate, “If we vote this down, we’ll be the only community in the country that has voted against the YMCA.”

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