BY LAYLI WHYTE
Questions continue to be raised about the long-awaited skate park that was to have been built at the Community YMCA of Red Bank, but there are few answers.
Red Bank Councilman Pasquale Menna recently sent a letter to Assemblyman Michael Panter (D-12th District) concerning a $75,000 grant the State Department of Community Affairs gave to the YMCA in 2001 to help fund a skateboard park at the Y’s Maple Avenue facility.
The facility was never built because the YMCA said costs had escalated and put the project out of reach.
Menna’s Oct. 15 letter comes after allegations made by Albert Larotunda, Spring Street, and borough Councilman John Curley, claiming that the grant funds were not used appropriately.
In the letter, Menna said constituents have contacted him about the issue and asked Panter to ask the DCA for a public accounting of the “allocation and use of this money” by the YMCA.
Panter, who met with Curley, Larotunda and other concerned members of the community in May, said Tuesday, since receiving Menna’s letter, he has made inquiries to the YMCA and the DCA.
Richard Pollock, president of the Community YMCA, did not return repeated phone calls to his office seeking comment on Menna’s letter.
Previously, Pollock has denied any misappropriation, saying that the grant monies were used for preliminary work such as design, site planning and extra staff time for the project.
“I am perplexed as to how so much of $75,000 could be used for ‘planning’ purposes and further how a specific state program for a particular purpose can be allocated to staff ‘activity’ with little or any supervisory control by the state,” Menna’s letter to Panter read.
Last month, Pollock said that although the plan was to build a skateboard park at its Maple Avenue facility with a budget of $250,000, by the time approval was granted by the Borough Zoning Board of Adjustment in 2002, construction costs had risen to more than $400,000. This price was out of the range of the YMCA, according to Pollock.
According to a financial statement submitted by the YMCA to the DCA, a budget of $275,000 was allocated to the skate park, and $61,936 had already been spent on preliminary work as of December 2002.
In an interview this week, Menna reiterated the fact that the public has the right to know how public money is being spent.
“If it was used for anything else,” he said, “I think they should give it back.”
According to a letter dated Feb. 28, 2001 to Pollock from the DCA, the grant was to be used exclusively for the building of a skate park at the Maple Ave. facility of the YMCA.
Listed under other funds to be used for the project, in addition to the grant money, was $100,000, which the YMCA was apparently supposed to provide.
Pollock said that the $100,000 listed in the grant agreement was not extra money raised for the project but part of the YMCA general fund that had been put aside for the project. That money was never used for the project because, according to Pollock, the cost became too high.
Menna questioned why the YMCA didn’t let the borough know that the project had been shelved, especially after the long process gone through to gain approval from the Zoning Board.
Menna said he has also wrote to Susan Bass Levin, DCA commissioner. He said he does not expect an answer.
Menna said that without accountability regarding how the public funds were spent, he thinks the YMCA should not receive more state grants.
Larotunda had previously inquired as to why a scaled-back version of the original plan would not be acceptable. Pollock responded to that in an Oct. 20 letter to Panter.
“The Community YMCA seeks the highest and best use of all resources – financial, physical and human,” the letter stated. “A ‘scaled-back’ version would be a ‘second best’ use of resources available and still cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to build.”
Panter said Tuesday that he has found no evidence of wrong doing on the part of the YMCA. He has, he said, written letters to both Pollock and Bass Levin concerning the grant ,asking for proof that nothing improper has been done with the grant and for written confirmation that the YMCA is under no obligation to complete the project.
“The YMCA is a great organization,” said Panter on Tuesday. “They deserve the presumption that everything was done properly.”
Curley said that he will continue to investigate this issue until he gets satisfactory answers from the YMCA and the DCA.