By SHANNON WATKINS
Much debate occurred but no final decision was made Tuesday night on the subject of the YMCA’s offer to trade memberships for maintenance services at the Pulaski Town Council meeting.
Concerns were brought up by council members and town employees about how this would affect staffing, the legality of the trade, what priority it would take and the how to handle it fairly.
Mayor Jeff Worrell told the council, “They have come to us requesting some services that they need provided, and they have offered some services of their own that they would offer the citizens and town staff in return.” The services requested by the Y included lawn mowing and snow removal.
Town Manager John Hawley said, “If we’re going to start any of these programs, we need to really make a commitment or move forward doing it, so they will know what the town’s going to be able to provide them, and also so they will be able to know what is expected of them.”
Vice Mayor Joseph Goodman inquired how using town employees for maintenance would affect staffing levels.
Town Engineer Bill Pedigo said that using workers on the YMCA grounds would take away from other projects. “We don’t have the staff…there’s not extra people I can put up there. That’s work we’re not doing somewhere else.”
“I just rode around town the other day looking at our flowerbeds, road repairs, the list goes on and on and on, that our guys are stretched to the very max, right now,” said Councilman Jamie Radcliffe. “I hate to enter into a promise with the Y. We get our memberships, they call and say, ‘Look, we need repairs, we gotta have this done, we gotta have that done’… I’d hate to be on the receiving end of a phone call from the town manager or the assistant town manager, whoever that would be, wanting to know why our flowerbeds, why the grass is not being cut in town, yada yada yada, that would not be pleasant. Just this week alone I’ve received two visits and one phone call over our roadways, flowerbeds…I don’t know how you’d work it in.”
“The flowerbeds are slow, but they’re coming. But that’s a different department than public works, the mowing,” advised Dave Hart of Public Parks and Facilities.
“I understand it’s a different department, but we’re still not getting it done. That’s the bottom line,” said Radcliffe. “Whoever’s department it is, we’re not getting it done…I’ve had two people come by the house and a phone call. I don’t have an answer for it. We’re doing the best we can do. I’m not for sure how y’all are going to fit this in.”
Kidd asked Pedigo his thoughts on the matter.
Pedigo said, “You know, I think the Y’s a great facility in this town, it services a great purpose. I’m a member of the Y; I try to go up there every day during lunch. I just don’t know that we have the current staff to take care of that facility. If they were to have some issue that needed to be fixed, go out and pull crew off one of our pump stations to fix that, and that may not happen often, but it’s surely going to happen.”
Hawley pointed out that the town’s needs would take priority over the Y, and maintenance work for the Y would have to be scheduled at the town’s convenience, which had been made clear to the YMCA. He recommended that a decision of some sort needed to be made by council.
Councilman Greg East weighed in, saying, “My initial response was yes, it’s a great idea, but…the Y is a nonprofit organization. We have a number of nonprofit organizations, certainly some of which need their grass mowed. It seems to me this may be a bit of a slippery slope in that, how do you say yes to one and no to another, should they ask? So that’s one concern that I have.”
He also brought up the potential unfairness of trying to distribute the 30 memberships that the Y had offered the town among 106 employees, citing that more people might want them than there were to go around.
“Certainly you have valid points, but the flipside is, it’s an opportunity for us to try and get some programs for our citizens and our employees that are currently not available,” said Worrell. “More people wanting memberships than are available–I’m not sure that problem isn’t one of the good problems to have. I’d like council to take a good hard look at that before we let it go.”
Radcliffe said, “If they broke a list down of specifically what they wanted and the cost of that…”
Goodman said, “We already help a number of nonprofit organizations in our community. This isn’t the first nonprofit organization in the town that we’ve supported. But unlike some of those organizations where we hand them an amount of money each year, we’re getting something in return.”
He mentioned that many insurance companies are pushing wellness programs, and Y memberships could lead to long-term reductions in insurance premiums for the town.
Goodman further agreed that the Y’s maintenance needs would not be top priority. “If there’s a water main break, we’re not going to be mowing that lawn. So with that on balance I think there’s a way that could work.” He suggested that if memberships are not offered first to employees whose physical fitness is a job requirement, such as the police, fire and public works departments, then memberships be distributed by a lottery system.
Radcliffe addressed Goodman’s remarks, saying the council needed to consider the public at large and asked what they would get out of it, not just a select few.
“That’s a valid point,” said East. “While I do see it as a positive for a select few, looking at the town as a whole, I’m not sure it’s of the best benefit for all.”
Worrell remarked, “I don’t see the reason we couldn’t try this as a pilot project. We can try it for a set period of time to see if it works. If it turns out it’s not going to work, move on. As I said earlier, I think it’s an opportunity to buy some services for our citizens and our employees. I’d hate to see it get away from us.”
“We really don’t know until something like this is tried,” said Councilman Dave Clark. “The thing I hear out of people the most is that we don’t give our kids anything to do, we don’t give our seniors anything to do, the town doesn’t work with anybody else to try to make things happen good for the town.”
He continued, “This is an opportunity to help keep something good in the town, to give some kids a chance to do something they probably wouldn’t get to do otherwise, we’ve mentioned to give seniors something to do and to give our employees a chance to improve themselves in a way they might not have been able to before. I know how stretched our staff is, and how hard it is for them to fit in any new thing, it’s tough, but in my opinion it’s something that would be really worthwhile.”
East asked Town Attorney David Warburton if there were any legal issues to consider.
Warburton replied that the YMCA is a legitimate place to give money so long as it does not discriminate against anyone. As for other issues related to the town, he said, “I’m comfortable with my previous advice that you purchase the service…I’m not in favor of anything that would void the monthly water and PSA service [for the YMCA].”
He continued, “You gotta be real careful that you do not cross the line from maintenance into capital improvement. And please do not ask me to define those two, because I don’t know. Mr. Pedigo can tell you where you cross the line. Mow the lawn? Sounds like maintenance to me. Fixing the ceiling of the pool? That sounds like capital improvement to me.” Warburton said these are the only legal issues he is aware of.
Worrell asked if there were any further discussions or motions.
Goodman said it might be a better idea to hold off until more information was available, such as a full list of what the Y wanted and what it could be balanced against in benefits for the town.
Hawley said, “I think we can work on that and come back at our July meeting and do this.”
The meeting then moved on to other topics.