Letter to the editor: All Rockland residents need a place of their own

Posted:  Monday, June 11, 2018 - 9:45am
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As part of the Monday, June 11, 2018 City of Rockland agenda, the Council will consider extending the existing License and Operation Agreement to the YMCA f"or an additional two years, under the same terms and provisions of the existing agreement."
 
Since 2015, when the City of Rockland abandoned its Recreation Department, and, essentially, turned the Recreation Center/Community Building over to the YMCA, all residents have been paying for that privilege, whether or not they became members.  Previously, the building was open to all;  no membership required.  Rather than the lessee the YMCA, paying Rockland residents for the use of their building and maintenance, it is the other way around.  The license and operation agreement is 99% one way:  from Rockland residents to the YMCA.
 
Rather than do whatever was necessary to improve and strengthen its own Recreation Department, the YMCA was perceived to be an easy fix, and with an organization that is, generally sanctioned and supported globally.  So, sanctioned, in fact, that there has existed, since 1979, an organization to ensure the continued funding of the YMCA, the North American YMCA Development Organization (NAYDO). 
 

Somewhat of an aside:  interestingly, YWCA's, while continuing to maintain their egalitarian mission, have lost their local presence in great disproportion to the YMCA organization.  This represents a tremendous loss of YWCA goals, as much as they have become all the more pressing in the last few years, in favor of the YMCA's far more health club approach.  This is not to disparage all YMCA activities in general, nor their value, but to give perspective.

 
Here in Rockland, the Flanagan Community Center no longer belongs to the residents, save that they continue to pay the rent.  Even a Google search for the Flanagan Community Center, Rockland, now yields, "Flanagan Community Center - Penobscot Bay YMCA - PenBay YMCA.
 
Where, once, anyone could use the Community Center's resources, membership is required.  Private entities have had to step in to allow greater access by paying for membership that was never required when this resource, Rockland's own, remained within the grasp of residents.  Yes.  It would have taken work to maintain and enhance the Rockland Recreation Department, but it would have been worth it; it would still be worth it.  But will Council hear from anyone but myself regarding these concerns, despite the numbers of residents who have bemoaned the loss and the change for the past three years.
 
What follows is an email I sent to the Rockland City Council and City Manager, but I will close by noting that, as much as ever before, all Rockland residents need a place of their own, especially when they are paying for it.
 
"Councilors, City Manager:
 
To the best of my knowledge, the City has not sought the input of the population of Rockland as to resident use of the YMCA, nor the lack of a functional Recreation Department, and completely open Community Building, nor has it done a cost vs benefit study to learn the financial burden to residents for paying the YMCA to be in the Community Building, and for its maintenance.
 
In 2015, when the decision was made to abandon the City of Rockland's responsibilities to offer a full Recreation Department and programming, the Community Building might have been underutilized, save by those who used it, and programming might not have been what it should have been.  However, the City's answer to this was, not to review and strengthen the Recreation Department, but to take the easy way out.
 
This easy answer, however, is not so easy.  All residents have been paying a lessee to occupy a building, and paid for maintenance and upkeep, that is no longer open to all.  
 
The lease agreement has been completely in favor of the YMCA.  The YMCA is an international organization that can well pay its own way.  The YMCA has not even been open during the summer months when schools are closed.
 
If the Council is, yet again, going to agree to continuing to abandon its responsibilities to work for the provision of services to all, then the very least the Council can do is to cease financial support of the YMCA, and require that the YMCA support itself.
 
Opioid use, the importance of health and opportunities to gain it, and social harmony are the areas that grab the attention.  A strong Recreation Department, and Community Center, open to all and with no membership required, advances all residents; not the few.
 
The parking area at the Flanagan Community Center may be full with vehicles belonging to YMCA members, but this is not a "community" service.
 
It is all the more ironic, that the City retained the use of the Community Building/Recreation Center, as the place for residents to go to vote.  Unfortunately, residents will not be voting on the lack of a city Recreation Department, nor the spending of resident funds to support a YMCA, nor the overall, continued expense.
 
Maggie Trout lives in Rockland