YMCA contract expires: Delaware council mulls ways to take back all recreation operations

Paul Comstock
ThisWeek
Jack Florance Pool swimming pool at Mingo Park, 500 E. Lincoln Ave. in Delaware

Delaware City Council on April 5 heard details on a recreational-needs assessment seen as a preliminary step in renewing expanded city recreation programs.

Austin Hochstetler of Indiana-based PROS Consulting summarized the main points of the assessment, which covers 205 pages attached to the meeting's agenda.

The assessment is designed, Hochstetler said, as a preliminary step that would lead to development of a recreation master plan.

Both the assessment and master plan stem from council meetings in August and September 2019, when council members and a number of residents voiced multiple complaints about the Delaware YMCA's operation of city recreation programs.

After the YMCA opened its community center at 1121 S. Houk Road in late 2011, the city signed a contract authorizing the YMCA to manage city recreation programs, including operation of the Jack Florance Pool swimming pool at Mingo Park, 500 E. Lincoln Ave.

In 2019, a number of residents complained to council about the YMCA's refusal to grant access to the YMCA community-center pool for outside organizations. YMCA officials at the time said the Y's 2008 lease with the city included that prohibition.

City Council's discussion soon expanded to cover a variety of other complaints about the YMCA's operation of city rec programs, including pool operations.

As several council members called for the city to operate its own recreation program and end the arrangement with the YMCA, the idea of a needs assessment emerged.

The contract that yielded management of city rec programs to the YMCA expired in late 2020.

City Manager Tom Homan at the time said the YMCA community center would continue operations even if the city were to take control of all municipal recreation services. 

That detail might be confusing for the public, Homan said, considering the center is named Delaware Community Center YMCA. But several central Ohio cities -- including Gahanna and Hilliard -- have both YMCA centers and standalone city recreation departments, he said.

In March 2020, council said PROS Consulting would conduct a community survey.

Hochstetler listed the results of that survey April 5 as he discussed the needs assessment.  

He said a majority of those surveyed support continuing the city's current recreation tax. 

After the meeting, city community-affairs manager Lee Yoakum said the city's income-tax rate is 1.85%, with 0.15% approved by voters for recreation. 

"The community really did say, ‘We want to see more recreation programs, services and experiences,’” Hochstetler told council. "This idea of increased programming does lend toward the fact of re-creating a formalized parks and rec department."

Homan on April 5 said the recreation tax was designed to fund park improvements, and council earlier agreed to let the tax expire when the debt for the improvements is paid off.

That would mean returning to the voters to seek approval of a new tax to fund recreation programs, he said.

"That funding piece is just a critical part" of enacting steps that would be included in the recreation master plan, Homan said.

Hochstetler said the survey listed walking and biking trails, nature trails and swimming pools and water parks as top priorities for future facility expenditures.

The survey also listed nature programs and exhibits, special events and canoeing and kayaking as priorities for investment in future programs, he added.

Hochstetler said the city could partner with other agencies, such as Preservation Parks of Delaware County, on programming.

"It's not like the city has to do everything themselves to implement all these programs and services that the community wants," he said.

The April 5 meeting was a work session. Council will need to approve the master plan later.

Homan said council included money for the master plan in this year's city budget.

Earlier this year, Mike Hamer became the city's new aquatics and facilities supervisor to prepare for the opening of the Jack Florance Pool at Mingo Park, as well as youth baseball and softball leagues for the first time since 2011.

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