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YMCA wants debt waived

Tuesday, 26th July, 2011

By Andrew Robertson

City Council looks set to knock back a request from the YMCA of Sydney to waive its claim on the local YMCA building.

The decision could put in danger a “major redevelopment” planned for the Broken Hill centre which would see it become a “hub” for families, the YMCA said.

Council helped rescue the local YMCA in 2005 when it became insolvent.

It provided a $160,000 grant on the condition that should the centre close, Council would receive the full amount back when the building was sold.

The YMCA of Sydney, which has since taken control of the centre, has written to the council asking it to waive that claim.

In a letter to Council’s general manager, Frank Zaknich, YMCA of Sydney chief executive Phillip Hare said the organisation wanted to improve the centre.

“Our building plan is for a major redevelopment of the Broken Hill YMCA that would be over $150,000 investment by the YMCA of Sydney,” Mr Hare said in the letter.

But before the work proceeded it wanted Council to waive its claim on the building.

“Without this occurring it would see an over-capitalisation in the Broken Hill YMCA by the YMCA of Sydney and would limit our capacity to have the Broken Hill YMCA achieve its community potential,” Mr Hare wrote.

Council’s Corporate Services committee - members of which include all 10 councillors - has recommended Council reject the request.

Mr Hare said in his April 5 letter that since taking over the local centre the Sydney YMCA had invested significantly in the building which had led to participation increases in a range of programs.

“It is still not operating at a break even financial position, which is underwritten buy the YMCA of Sydney, but the long-term prospects look positive for an eventual break even operation,” he said in the letter.

Yesterday Mr Hare told the BDT the YMCA of Sydney was committed to the local centre which, he said, was “going exceptionally well”.

“It’s been there a 100 years and we’ll be there for another 100 years.”

But Sydney now wanted to take the local centre “to the next level” and replicate what was being done with other YMCAs in NSW, which was a greater focus on families.

“They’ve become the new family centres,” Mr Hare said.

New programs aimed at families and young people would be introduced along with food and beverage services. A major redesign would also see the main entrance moved back to Chloride Street.

“To take this next step in becoming a hub for the city needs significant dollars,” Mr Hare said. “But when we take into account that debt we’d be over-capitalising.”

He argued there was virtually no financial impact on Council should it decide to waive the claim because the YMCA was only obliged to return the money in the event the centre closed and the building was sold.

The YMCA and Council had near identical community aims, he said, and the centre virtually subsidised Council services with after-school and vacation programs.

“We don’t have conflicting agendas. I hope Council will make the right decision.”

However, Councillor Bob Algate, who moved at last week’s committee meeting that Council not agree to the waiver, said Council had a greater obligation to ratepayers.

“I don’t think councillors have the right to waive funds of that magnitude, particularly given Council’s financial position,” he said.

Council will consider the matter at tomorrow night’s monthly meeting.

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