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Langford eyes spending $1M more to save YMCA/YWCA from closing amid heavy losses

Group said recreation facility would close if city didn’t up its subsidy by nearly a million dollars
YMCA-YWCA Westhills was facing a potential closure in a month if the City of Langford did not double its $950,000 annual subsidy to help cover the costs of the recreation facility. (Bailey Moreton/News Staff)

Langford plans to swoop in to save the YMCA-YWCA at Westhills, which could close in a month if the city doesn’t boost funding by a million dollars.

After more than $10 million in operating losses since the centre opened in 2016, the YMCA’s board said they would need the city to double its $950,000 annual contribution in order to keep the lights on. Without the money, the YMCA said they would have to start closing the facility on Mar. 31.

“I think we’ve been working on these challenges for some time. I don’t want to leave the impression that this is a last-minute ultimatum from the Y - we reached the stage where the dust has cleared from Covid and we see a path forward, in a way that was clearer than it was before, and we think this is what the gap is, so we can move forward together and be successful,” said Derek Gent, chief executive officer at YMCA-YWCA of Vancouver Island, during a committee of the whole meeting on Monday (Feb. 27).

Under the current operating agreement, the City of Langford pays out $950,000 to the YMCA as an annual subsidy. Westhills built and owns the facility, which the YMCA-YWCA then rents out for use as a recreation facility. Since 2020, Westhills has given rent deferrals to the YMCA, which have totalled up to $1.6 million in rental arrears.

Signed simultaneously with the 25-year lease agreement was another that said the city would be required to step in and assume the lease if the YMCA stopped operating the recreation centre.

With the city’s annual contribution set to reach $1.9 million annually if the deal is ultimately approved and totalling more than $34 million over the remaining 18 years of the lease, city staff recommended council look into buying the facility from Westhills and have those payments be instead directed to a loan to pay off owning the building.

Speaking during the marathon meeting on Monday (Feb. 27), Westhills manager Ryan McKenzie said the corporation would be interested in selling.

Part of the deal included Langford reviewing the YMCA’s governance structure and operations and comparing it with facilities in other regions.

Answering questions from councillors during the committee meeting, Gent said the facility was looking to up the number of members by around 3,000 people to a total of around 10,000. That’s below pre-Covid levels (which were around 13,500), but Gent hoped they would be able to get more people on individual memberships rather than family ones. He says they also plan to promote more corporate memberships.

He also said they were looking to expand the variety of services they offer, pointing to the potential to partner with the nearby Greater Victoria Library and Victoria Conservatory of Music branches and making the facility more of a community centre than primarily focused on health and fitness.

For Langford’s 2023 budget, the $950,000 would mean a tax increase of 2.5 per cent, according to a city staff report (if the additional contribution was provided from April to December).

Ultimately council approved the motion during the committee of the whole meeting on Monday (Feb. 27), which recommended staff include extra funds for the YMCA-YWCA in its 2023 budget.

During the meeting, several large items were looked at ahead of council reviewing its budget and five-year financial plan. Council still has to vote on providing the extra funding to the YMCA, reviewing its operations and entering into negotiations with Westhills to buy the recreation facility at a future council meeting.

In a report, city staff said the budget process would happen in late March into early April.

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