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YMCA funding comes under fire as Wichita council applies for housing services grants

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, May 14, 2013, at 5:39 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Sep. 14, 2013, at 9:04 a.m.

City Council members moved forward Tuesday with a federal grant application to maintain the city’s housing services programs.

But not before the Wichita YMCA and a youth crime prevention program that uses $100,000 of the federal money to operate came under fire.

Former council member Greg Ferris gave council members a six-year summary of the YMCA’s finances, including a $16.1 million “excess” from revenues of $45.9 million in 2011.

Ferris is a registered lobbyist in Topeka with the Kansas Health and Fitness Association and has represented Genesis Fitness Clubs owner Rodney Steven in several public policy debates on taxation against the YMCA, a nonprofit.

“If this was a private business, these would be considered profits,” Ferris told the council, saying the money should go to other agencies that need funding more. “They (the YMCA) have adequate resources out of $16 million. To say they would be unable to provide the service without the (federal) money would not be a good public argument.

“We know that grants are continuing to go down. The ability to fund them is going down. Your tax revenues and your ability to provide service are going down. The only thing that appears not to be going down are the profits of the YMCA.”

Council member Jeff Longwell sided with Ferris.

“It might be a little late for our distributions this year as we take up this matter, but it’s something we ought to take a look at,” he said. “We have limited resources and there are groups struggling to survive, and I don’t know how much we take into account the value of the groups serving the community.”

But council member Janet Miller dismissed Ferris’ argument, saying that profit and loss sheets have nothing to do with the winner of a formal request for proposals, such as the crime prevention program in which the YMCA was selected by city staff.

“With all due respect, that argument doesn’t hold a lot of weight with me,” Miller said. “The millions of dollars the Y returns to this community every year is important to remember. You can look at their reserves, that are used for purposes that benefit this community over time.

“This needs to be in the context of what the Y does for this community. The city issued an RFP for a program, the entities applied, and the best entity is chosen.”

Dennis Schoenebeck, the general executive of the Wichita YMCA, could not be reached for comment.

The overall grant application to the Department of Housing and Urban Development covers 2013-14 expenditures for Community Development Block Grant, HOME Investment Partnership and Emergency Solutions Grant funds, with a 5 percent federal funding cut. It is due Wednesday.

City staff is estimating funding at just under $4 million: $2,364,171 in Community Development Block Grant money, $223,388 in Emergency Solutions grant funding and $1,125,571 for HOME Investment partnerships.

The balance of the 5 percent cut comes in CDBG money, about $205,000.

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com.

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