By Ken de la Bastide and Scott Smith
Tribune staff writers
In exchange for the Howard County commissioners’ pledge of $500,000 toward construction of a new YMCA, the city of Kokomo is offering up to 80 parking spaces at no cost for county employees in a proposed parking garage.
Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight made the offer to county officials in a letter Monday. He said the city would provide up to 80 covered parking spaces in the city-built parking garage for county employees for 30 years, “in the spirit of cooperation and progress.”
On Dec. 3, the commissioners announced their intent to provide five annual payments of $100,000 to help offset the cost of bringing a new $15 million YMCA downtown.
In recognition of the county’s pledge, Goodnight said offering the spaces in the future parking garage “will hopefully provide a savings to all county taxpayers while addressing the county’s need for downtown parking spaces.”
Reaction to the offer was immediate.
Members of the Howard County Council tabled plans Tuesday to approve a first payment on a 15,000-square-foot building at Main and Superior streets, which county officials had planned to purchase at least partially to alleviate the lack of downtown parking for county employees. The county already has a purchase agreement in place to buy the building — and 120 parking spaces — for $850,000.
Now the plan is to hold a special council meeting Dec. 21 to decide whether to accept the city offer or continue with plans to purchase the former Family & Social Services Administration building at Main and Superior.
Certain to factor into the decision is whether the county council will make good on the commissioners’ pledge.
That’s because the county council will have to approve payments beyond the first installment, and council president Dick Miller and Councilman Dwight Singer remain opposed to using tax dollars for the YMCA project.
Singer made a motion during the council’s 2013 budget hearings in September that no county tax dollars go toward the YMCA facility. The motion was approved unanimously. Since then, other council members have decided to back the commissioners’ pledge.
Goodnight said Tuesday the good-faith offer by the commissioners was a turning point.
“What changed was that county officials had previously said they were not going to help with any [public] funds, so I think this changes things,” Goodnight said.
“I’m a taxpayer, and I think this is a better use of taxpayer dollars, because you get so much more out of this project. It isn’t just a parking garage for county employees ... it’s not just for the YMCA. There’s so much going on downtown, and this will be available for all those events,” Goodnight said.
Commissioner Paul Wyman said Tuesday employee parking has been a point of contention between city and county officials for years.
“We are absolutely going to take a look at it,” Wyman said of the city’s offer. “I appreciate the offer from the city. This is brand new to us.”
Ron Metz, chairman of the YMCA’s capital campaign, also received the letter. He said Tuesday he was encouraged.
“This seems to be a magnanimous offer, and it seems to open the possibility of bringing everyone together around a worthwhile community project,” Metz said. “On behalf of the YMCA, we’re pleased with the development.”
Wyman said there have been discussions about allowing county employees to continue parking in the city-owned lot on Union Street, where the parking garage will be constructed, until the work begins. Tuesday, Goodnight said he has no problem continuing to allow county employees to park on city-owned lots downtown. The city enforces two-hour parking on the streets downtown, but not in the surface lots.
“This could be a city-county partnership,” Wyman said of the YMCA project. “I’m confident the [county] council is supportive of the YMCA project.”
Wyman said a decision will have to be made quickly.
Miller said the county council will consider the city’s offer.
“We need to have a clear understanding of the issues,” he said. “There is property to be evaluated, and at the special meeting we will be more capable of making public disclosures.”
The council needs to understand the city’s offer in conjunction with all the issues between the city and county.
“I’m always concerned about taxpayer dollars,” Miller said of pledging funds to the YMCA. “As the fiscal body we are tasked with formulating a budget. We accept or reject different requests as we go along.”