County could give COVID relief funds to Watertown YMCA project

Published: Feb. 16, 2022 at 5:14 PM EST
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - The Watertown Family YMCA’s new aquatic center project has taken on unexpected costs, so officials are trying to get help to cover them. While the city has shut down using federal COVID relief funds to pitch in, it could be a different story for Jefferson County.

On Monday, officials in charge of building the YMCA’s new aquatic center in downtown Watertown approached city council to see if the city could help with nearly $2 million worth of costs centered around cleaning up contaminants found at the work site.

“Now, you go in there and it’s totally gutted. So, we have to rebuild all the walls, rebuild the restroom facilities,” said

Dave Zembiec, CEO, Jefferson County Economic Development.

Watertown City Manager Ken Mix says the city has explored funding options with one still in play. But, when it comes to using the millions of dollars Watertown is receiving in federal COVID relief money, Mix says the Y’s project doesn’t apply because it’s not a “traditional governmental service” and giving the project money could go against state rules.

“There’s a New York state constitutional prohibition against giving gifts of city funds. And once these funds are sent over for the city for general governmental services, they’re city funds,” said Mix.

It’s not the answer project officials were hoping for.

“It’s a bit discouraging. I think we’re hopeful the city is still looking at options,” said Zembiec.

But one Jefferson County lawmaker reads the rules of that federal COVID relief money differently. Scott Gray says there could be an in for the YMCA.

“Documents from the Treasury Department clearly states in there, ‘use of funds,’ and its appropriate use of funds for not-for-profits, to help not-for-profits,” said Gray (R. - District 13 Legislator).

Those organizations had to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which Gray says the YMCA has been.

“Because of the cost increases of the project, which are largely due to the pandemic, the project went from $18 million to, I believe, $27 million,” he said.

The YMCA hasn’t asked the county for money yet, but Jefferson County Board of Legislators Chair Bill Johnson says the door is open to them.

“It’s a possibility, yes,” he said.

Watertown Family YMCA CEO Denise Young says they need all the help they can get.

“We need the financing to make the project happen. We need the funding and we need everyone to come together and make it happen for our community,” she said.

As of now, the plan is for project officials to formally speak to the county in March.

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