After Mr Stephen Butz, president of the YMCA in Vancouver, agreed to an in-depth interview with Abbotsford Today, a debate has been going on between Today columnist Walter Neufeld and Mr Butz.
Mr. Neufeld sent us his latest correspondence with Mr. Butz.
Dear Mr. Butz,
You began your last email by expressing sorrow for the impression that the YMCA was trying to hide something in its pursuit of taxpayer funding.
You claim to have been “… transparent with the City of Abbotsford, groups and individuals since [you] were invited to consider the development of a YMCA two years ago.” (see below)
You and the YMCA have been the helmsmen guiding this community’s perceptions into muddied waters, which you now insist are clear. Should Abbotsford taxpayers believe that you’ve provided transparency just because you say so? A growing number of folks prefer to see it for themselves rather than being told they’ve seen something they haven’t.
YMCA’s current request for taxpayers’ money serves to galvanize opinions about City Council’s past fiscal mismanagement and heightens fears that taxes will once again be misspent: this time on the YMCA’s nonessential, redundant services.
Your responses to date effectively cements the impression that the YMCA prefers to ignore those local fiscal difficulties and hopes instead to refocus this community’s attention on your claims that the YMCA’s research has satisfied its willingness to invest its 50% of the “… capital funding and 100% operating responsibility.” The YMCA’s self-serving positivism minimizes the significance of this community’s fiscal quagmire while it simultaneously attempts to turn our collective support behind your claims that this community urgently needs YMCA’s programs and services.
That narrative seeks to convince us that YMCA’s research has revealed that this City is somehow imperilled without the YMCA’s help: the YMCA will make this a better community. What kinds of criteria were used to direct the research? Was the research purpose driven to ensure a desired outcome? Is this the wisest use of taxpayer money in these dire economic times? We simply don’t know because the YMCA doesn’t want to engage this community in a discussion of relevant issues.
As a result of this strategy, Abbotsford residents are left on the sidelines watching the YMCA play hide and seek with facts that might otherwise help them understand the full value of the demands the YMCA’s funding appeal puts on taxpayers. The YMCA currently controls this unhelpful narrative.
We’re starting to get the picture. The YMCA is on a quest to secure taxpayer funding for its building program. To keep the narrative focused and simple, YMCA prefers to talk only about its reasons for investing, “…$17.5 million in Abbotsford.” Period.
So, if we’re prohibited from accessing the YMCA’s research, we’ll simply look at its published promotional materials to help discover from where the funding money will come. This exercise should help this community rebalance the narrative by allowing it to discover and evaluate some of the critical facts that need to be assessed before an informed decision can be made.
Below is a review of the proposed YMCA contributions:
YMCA’s proposed Capital Investment:
• $17.5 million: YMCA’s capital contribution
• $3,000,000.00: estimated value of corporate sponsorship YMCA is anticipated to seek to fund completion of unfinished rooms. Taxpayers may view the anticipated corporate sponsorship tax write-offs as general tax revenues that have been redirected to fund YMCA’s redundant services & programs at taxpayer expense.
Taxpayer’s proposed Capital Investment:
• $17.5 million: Abbotsford taxpayers’ capital contribution
• $1,500,000.00: estimated Abbotsford taxpayer land gift contribution . YMCA prefers to view this gift as its entitlement. Taxpayers prefer to call it a subsidy for YMCA’s capital deficiency
• $39,500,000.00: Estimated total aggregate building cost (Includes land and corporate sponsorship estimates). I’ve been informed that YMCA will package the aggregate building costs (Includes land and corporate sponsorship estimates?) & apply to Fraser Hospital for a 40% cash grant subsidy. Please confirm or deny this funding source and the estimated values attributed to it? Where will this money be designated? Are there additional sources to taxpayer money YMCA will seek to secure? Please provide details.
• $15,800,00.00: Fraser Hospital’s 40% additional taxpayer gift contribution is based on an aggregate estimated construction cost of $39,500,000.
YMCA’s proposed Operating Cost contribution:
• The YMCA’s published “A case for YMCA in Abbotsford” states the total annual operating costs will be 3.5 million (see web link: https://abbotsford.civicweb.net/Documents/DocumentDisplay.aspx?ID=30097)
• The YMCA’s general annual operating costs are expected to be offset by annual revenues. Abbotsford taxpayers would not receive any return on capital investment nor on its proposed Property Tax subsidy investment (see below).
Taxpayers’ proposed Operating Cost Subsidy:
• Abbotsford taxpayers will contribute $800,000.00 annually via a special property tax waiver for the YMCA. The YMCA prefers to view this gift as an entitlement. Taxpayers prefer to view it as a subsidy for the YMCA’s operating budget.
• $32,000,000.00: The 40-year value of the special property tax waiver for the YMCA
• On the basis of a 3.5 million dollar annual budget, taxpayers’ contributions reduce the YMCA’s portion down to approximately $2,700,000.00. Put differently, taxpayers will carry 23% of the YMCA’s operating budget for 40 years via their involuntary property tax gift.
Prior to the YMCA’s funding request, taxpayers were focused on fixing the process driving the City’s fiscal mismanagement.
Your interview with Abbotsford Today served as a warning to taxpayers that they were being subjected to another review process whose outcome appeared based on a nod and a wink between parties in the know. Stylized talking points and freighted omissions rang this community’s alarm bell. The missing details warned the us of the importance of taking a closer look and applying fiscal prudence.
You started that interview by stating, “Our interest in Abbotsford is about our mission, not our business model.”
I responded as follows:
“…YMCA’s driving interest includes both its “mission” and its “business model”. It is, after all, a corporate entity with $5.99 billion revenues annually. Revenues that are driven by a business model that “puts business in non-profit and non-profit in business.” Although YMCA has an altruistic component, its “business model” seems to be steering its current expansion, and that strategic course appears to be a relatively new phenomenon.
Alternatively, if the YMCA’s Abbotsford interest is principally driven by its “mission”, why is the “mission” entirely subject to whether or not YMCA gets $17.5 million taxpayer dollars for the building* ?
-Why doesn’t the YMCA work within an existing building, with existing social/recreational service providers and thereby enhance its “mission” for our community’s benefit? The YMCA would thereby fulfil its “mission” and Abbotsford’s tax savings would be substantial. Everyone wins.
-Alternatively, if the YMCA’s success is based solely on tax funding for a building, rather than working cooperatively with existing service providers from an existing building, then what, precisely, is the YMCA’s “mission”?
“We have figured out how to operate these facilities in a prudent, sustainable fashion, and that is why government, community organizations, countless donors and municipalities across Canada have partnered with us.” Butz
From a critic’s perspective, the YMCA’s model appears to have figured one simple truth: how to tap into an endless stream of taxpayers’ money. From Abbotsford taxpayers’ perspective, that model is both harmful and unsustainable.
If its accurate to say the YMCA’s successful “mission” is inseparable from a business model that’s entirely dependent on public funding for an expensive building program, and, if substantial municipal property tax waivers (in this case $800,000. per year for 40 years =$32,000,000. million dollars) are additional prerequisites, then isn’t YMCA’s operating model simply a vehicle for re-taxing communities, like Abbotsford, for purposely underfunded existent social services? Let’s call it, Taxation by Other Means.
Your refusal to clearly answer these simple questions appears to confirm that the YMCA’s principal interest in Abbotsford is more about its business model than its mission. Works for the YMCA but not for this community.
The YMCA has doggedly insisted that its urgently needed building program would cost taxpayers a one-time maximum 17.5 million dollars but would not require funding from taxpayers for any operating costs.
If that’s true, why is the YMCA’s tax gift package being sold to the public as a one-time $17.5 million tax dollar gift when the actual tax gift to YMCA will be closer to $66,800,000.00++ over its 40 year commitment period? Where will YMCA spend the extra $49,300,000.00 it will collect from taxpayers?
If these values are correct, taxpayers will have almost quadrupled YMCA’s original 17.5 million dollar tax gift request. Have Abbotsford’s taxpayers been misled? Is this community supposed to make informed fiscal decisions based on such “transparency”?
Are you still recommending that our community approve this major funding gift in-spite-of the information brought to light above?
Can you now appreciate why it’s important for you to clearly & honestly answer all the questions previously asked?
I look forward to reading your response.
For the previous discussion between Mr Neufeld and Mr Butz please click here.