The Ada County Commissioners' Board of Equalization—which, incidentally, has the same membership as the Ada County Commissioners—has reversed, in a 3-0 vote, its May 7 decision to lower the YMCA's tax exemption rate from 100 percent to 19 percent before a crowd of about 220 mostly YMCA supporters. The Y is now fully tax-exempt, as it has been since it first came to the Treasure valley 122 years ago.
The issue at hand: Whether—as was argued April 7 by managers of Axiom Fitness and Idaho Athletic Club—the YMCA's West Y facilities failed to meet the qualifications required of a tax-exempt organization. Specifically, the percentage of the value of a nonprofit facility used for commercial purposes must not exceed 3 percent. In testimony by Treasure Valley Family YMCA Executive Director Jim Everett, commercial use of those facilities—rehabilitation programs run by St. Luke's and a snack bar—amounted to approximately 1 percent of those facilities.
To boot, Everett argued, the Y's activities in the area have enhanced public access to fitness and other services, especially among children, the disabled, the homeless and other at-risk populations.
"If you don't like the homeless, you're not going to like the Y," he said.
He further said that the YMCA and for-profit fitness ventures have successfully coexisted in the area for years. Everett cited an instance in which an erroneous media report falsely pitted the nonprofit against Gold's Gym, and a regional executive from Gold's responded to YMCA leadership in an email, which Everett read before the board.
"Our missions are different. ... God Bless the YMCA," the email read.
Three YMCA members delivered testimony to illustrate the impact the Y has had on their lives. First among these was Noail Isho, an Iraqi Catholic who moved to the United States four years ago. When he arrived in the U.S., he couldn't swim. Today, he's a YMCA swim instructor.
"My first experience was jumping in the pool and drowning," he said.
"Almost drowning," someone chimed in to laughter from the crowd.
Y member Alissa Aldrich has two sons, Noah and Lucas. Lucas suffers from a rare condition, lissencephaly, and suffers from severe mental and physical disabilities. Aldrich said the YMCA encouraged both sons to participate in a youth triathlon taking place in a few weeks using specialized equipment supplied by the YMCA.
"This is so much more than a swim-and-run gym," Aldrich said. "Not only has the Y embraced the boys—it's embraced our whole family."