A few weeks ago at a town hall meeting in Kennett Square, one resident proposed that borough officials charge all members of the Kennett Area YMCA $1 per month for the privilege of using facilities within the borough.
At first glance, the idea seems ludicrous. Why should YMCA members help bail out the financially ailing borough? To balance its budget, the borough needed to charge its residents 3 percent more this year for using its water, sewer and trash fund, and then needed to transfer $750,000 from that fund, a move some called a “backdoor tax.” But that didn’t stop officials from doling out pay increases to all borough non-uniformed and uniformed employees.
On top of that, the borough is saddled with millions of dollars of debt, and Moody rating agency recently downgraded the borough, which may make future borrowing difficult.
So now the borough may come knocking on the YMCA for financial assistance. The Kennett Area YMCA is used by nearly 12,000 adults, children and families. More than 1,500 people on average walk through its doors each day. If every member of the Y gave $1 per month, it would generate an additional income of $160,000 per year for the borough. That’s not pocket change.
But because the YMCA is a certified 501(c)(3) non-profit, the borough cannot legally force the YMCA to pay the money. The best it can do is ask Y members for a donation that would go directly into the borough’s coffers.
Doug Nakashima, Kennett Area YMCA executive director, said the YMCA won’t do that, adding the idea — which came from resident Tony Talamonti — has no merit.
“The Kennett Y is here to strengthen the foundations of our community and as a vital non-profit, we have had a very positive impact on Kennett Square,” he said. “Last year, more than 2,500 families received financial assistance to participate in Y programs and services.”
Indeed, the Kennett YMCA has an overwhelming positive impact on this area. It provided $623,000 in financial assistance to 2,545 local families last year. Families who otherwise could not afford services like swimming, child care and fitness are afforded those opportunities through the YMCA. Non-profits like the Kennett YMCA make the town attractive to both visitors and borough residents. Former Council President Leon Spencer even said the Kennett YMCA is directly responsible for the decrease in juvenile crime.
The problem, as we see it, is Kennett Square is home to a number of non-profits. While the borough collects money from sewer, water and trash from these non-profits, it gains no other revenue. If these non-profits paid taxes, the borough would not be in the financial pickle it is today.
But they don’t pay taxes, and the borough shouldn’t be begging for money to help balance its budget. But there is something appealing with asking YMCA members for $1 per month. Most members of the Kennett Area YMCA do not live in the borough, yet they benefit from Kennett Square’s services.
Membership to the YMCA is income-based, so not everyone pays the same. Asking for a donation wouldn’t put a hardship on anyone because it is completely voluntary. It’s like the tip jar you see at some fast-food restaurants. Not everyone donates, but those who do are saying they appreciate the services.
Doing his own research, Talamonti pointed out to officials that it is very expensive to live in the borough. He said the borough spends $2,416 per person per year to fund the budget in Kennett Square, while it only costs $600 per person to live in Kennett Township, $738 per person to live in Manheim Township and just $330 per person to live in Doylestown. He culled the numbers from public budgets and freedom of information requests.
Kennett officials must begin to really examine the fiscal problem. We are glad to see that borough officials have created a few public meetings that will focus solely on finances. Kennett Square is one of the more desirable places to live in Chester County, but spending must be brought under control. That has to start now.