Calvert County commissioners have refused to transfer ownership of the North Beach Community Center to Chesapeake Beach -- a crucial component of a plan by the town to create a new aquatic facility adjoining the center.
The town, which is offering to build the $3 million swimming center, has proposed putting it on the community center property and leasing both facilities to the YMCA.
On Tuesday, commissioners voted to reject the town's proposal. Several raised concerns about giving away the county-owned property, for which bonds have not been paid off. Some also worried that the deal might adversely affect an earlier YMCA arrangement with the county to build a new swimming pool in Prince Frederick.
"Thank you, but no thank you," Commissioner Linda L. Kelley (R-At Large) said.
Commissioner Susan Shaw (R-Huntingtown) had urged her colleagues to preserve the option of talking with the town and YMCA, especially if the county does not have the money to build a pool itself at the community center.
"We're going to have to work with somebody else to come up with the money," Shaw said.
After learning of the commissioners' vote, Chesapeake Mayor Gerald Donovan said that the town is still "willing to negotiate."
"Apparently they shut the door, but our door's open," Donovan said.
Although the Northeast Community Center is county-owned, the county and the town "developed the project together," according to the town's proposal, "with Chesapeake Beach contributing prime real estate in the very heart of town plus approximately $1,200,000 and Calvert County providing funding in the amount of $2,000,000."
In the proposal, which was endorsed by Donovan and all the Town Council members, the "transfer of ownership of the Northeast Community Center" would serve "as one of the building blocks to a new joint effort. In return for Calvert County's contribution, the town would become obligated to construct a modern indoor aquatic center as an adjunct to the current community center facility." The proposal would have committed the town to come up with as much as $3 million to build the aquatic center.
By leasing the existing community center and the new aquatic facility to the YMCA on a long-term basis, the town would bring the YMCA's services to the community. The YMCA would have paid the expense of all necessary equipment and fixtures, except for certain pool-related items that would have been town responsibilities.
Under the envisioned lease arrangement with the YMCA, town officials expected to be able to provide amenities such as an Olympic-size pool with six to eight lanes, and day-care and after-school programs.
In 1993, the county issued $2 million in general obligation bonds for its share of the $3.5 million community center, with the town essentially providing the balance, according to a county fiscal expert. The county still owes about $1.2 million on the bonds, the official said, and it plans to issue an additional $300,000 in bonds soon to complete an unfinished portion of the community center.
That pending debt and questions about whether a transfer of ownership would affect the tax-exempt status of the bonds also concerned commissioners who voted against pursuing the town's proposal. Some commissioners also questioned how the deal would affect the county-YMCA effort to build a pool in Prince Frederick.
"I'd like to see where this first one is going," Commissioner Gerald W. Clark (R-Solomons) said.
The town's letter did prompt the commissioners to request that the county staff ask YMCA officials to brief them soon about the status of the Prince Frederick pool project.
Last year, before the prior board of commissioners -- of which three members are no longer in office -- YMCA officials unveiled preliminary plans for a new recreation facility in the Prince Frederick area. Under that deal, the county would donate land for the new center in exchange for an understanding that Calvert residents could use an indoor pool there as well as other needed services, such as day care.
Meanwhile, Mayor Donovan has already sent out a letter to town residents outlining the pool proposal and asking them to "share our enthusiasm for the plan."
After Tuesday's vote not to pursue that proposal, Donovan said in an interview that "the county commissioners have to explain this to their constituents."