2007-09-28 / Front Page

Councilmember Fibs On YMCA Funding

By Brian Magoolaghan

One of Rockaway's City Council representatives and his staff members are flat out wrong for claiming that their office is solely responsible for securing $1 million in funds for Rockaway's YMCA, The Wave has learned.

The funding, one of the largest allocations for the project, came from the entire Queens delegation of the City Council, making it inaccurate for Councilman James Sanders Jr. or any other individual to claim sole responsibility, according to Anthony Hogrebe, a spokesperson for the council. Hogrebe researched the budget item with the council's Finance Division in response to an inquiry from this newspaper.

Asource familiar with the council's budget procedures said allocations of that size typically come from a borough's delegation for uses that will benefit several council districts, as opposed to coming from an individual member's discretionary funds to benefit their district alone.

The major issue facing the YMCA at Arverne By The Sea continues to be an additional $4.5 million in funding that is needed, and quickly, so that a bigger lap pool and an enclosed basketball court can be worked into the design. It remains to be seen whether or not that money will materialize, but funding sources have gone under the microscope because members of the board and the community say they need a clear picture of who gave and how much, so they know how to proceed in terms of soliciting funds and continued support at the polls.

The question about the money from the City Council surfaced after an official from the YMCA publicly detailed the funding sources for Rockaway's facility. Maria Del Toro, a senior vice president for the YMCA of Greater New York, credited the city council - without specifying members - for securing $1 million for the community center as she gave the first accounting of funding sources for the project at the September community board meeting. Her numbers also included $7 million from the developers of Arverne By The Sea, $3 million from the YMCA, $1.5 million from the Mayor's Office, $500,000 from State Assembly members Audrey Pheffer and Michele Titus, $500,000 from Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, $250,000 from State Senator Malcolm Smith, and $150,000 from Congressman Gregory Meeks.

Before Del Toro could finish her rundown, a woman repeatedly interjected from the audience, claiming that Sanders was solely responsible for money. She did so without first identifying herself as the councilmember's representative and without signing in as such, as other representatives of elected officials had done. Her insistent outburst clearly made representatives from the Y and others uneasy, and she drew a reprimand from CB14 Chairperson Dolores Orr. The board later confirmed that the woman was there on Sanders' behalf.

The implication that Sanders was solely responsible for the $1 million left many to infer that Councilmember Joseph Addabbo Jr. had turned his back on the project. Some interpreted the silence of his representative at the meeting as an unspoken admission that Addabbo's camp deserved no credit. (The aide actually called Addabbo from the meeting but was told to "let it go," the councilman said. The aide fell ill shortly thereafter and required hospitalization.)

Two days after that meeting, Addabbo told this reporter at an event at Peninsula Hospital Center that he and Sanders had both played a role, but he wasn't interested in squabbling over who deserves credit.

Donovan Richards, a representative for Sanders, contradicted Addabbo's statement and maintained that it was Sanders alone who secured the funds. This reporter asked for documentation supporting that claim and an interview with the councilman, but neither request was honored. Sanders' office did not return a call seeking comment for this story.

Addabbo said this week that his focus was on obtaining the additional funds that are needed. "The bottom line is we're going to fight for more money," he said. Addabbo said it could have been Sanders who initially raised the issue of funding the Y, but added, "It was two council members who really fought for it, and that was James Sanders and I."

No additional funds have been found for Rockaway's Y in the two weeks since the CB14 went on record expressing its disappointment with the existing plans, according to Gerard "Gerry" Romski, who represents one of the codevelopers. Romski reiterated his position this week, saying the facility is outstanding as it's designed.

Another option posed by the Y is to include the changes in a future expansion.

Construction of the facility is slated to get underway on the northwest corner of Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Beach 73 Street by year's end, at a cost estimate of about $13 million.

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