A decline in membership has forced the Upper Palmetto YMCA to slash expenses by reducing hours at its new aquatics center and holding some jobs vacant, CEO Moe Bell said.
Overall membership is down about 1,800, from 27,838 a year ago to 26,040, Bell said Monday. That means a loss of about $400,000 in annual revenue for the nonprofit organization, which gets 65 percent of its income from membership dues.
In Rock Hill, membership is down from 10,300 a year ago to 9,409 -- a decrease similar to what its other locations are experiencing, said Bell. The Upper Palmetto YMCA is comprised of eight branches in York and Chester counties.
Normally, YMCA membership increases 5 percent or more each year, he said. "You always want a growing membership, because your expenses are growing," he said.
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Bell said fewer new members are joining the YMCA, and some existing members are leaving. The top reasons people cite for leaving, he said, are moving out of town, not using the facility or being unable to afford the cost of the membership.
"'Can't afford' could mean their spouse lost their job, gas is so high they have to cut other expenses," Bell said.
Some members, such as Rock Hill resident Andy Westbrook, left the YMCA because they found a better deal. "I could join at Winthrop because it was cheaper, and I got the same amenities," said Westbrook, a YMCA member for five years until this past summer.
Bell said the membership decline began around August, when the economic downturn began to worsen. He said membership has continued to suffer because people are uncertain about their economic future.
"People are fearful of losing their job or not being able to work as many hours," Bell said. That has forced them to cut expenses, he said.
"You have to pay utility bills, put gas in the car. You don't have to join a health club," Bell said.
The eight locations operated by the Upper Palmetto YMCA include the aquatics center and two branches in Rock Hill, two sites in Fort Mill and sites in Chester, York and Clover.
For Teresa and Jeff Creech of Rock Hill, working out at the YMCA is a priority they are trying to maintain.
"We look to scale back on things, but we feel that it's an important part of our lives. It's something we don't want to scale back," Teresa Creech said.
In addition to a decline in membership, the YMCA also has seen a decrease in the enrollment in its after-school programs.
In Rock Hill, after-school enrollment is down the most -- almost 50 percent from last year. The other YMCA sites also have suffered from lower after-school enrollment, except the Clover branch, said Jimmy Johnson, operation manager for the Upper Palmetto YMCA.
Bell attributed the decreased enrollment in after-school programs to more parents choosing to let older children stay at home after school.
To balance its budget, the YMCA has cut hours at the Rock Hill Aquatics Center. The center is no longer open on Sunday, and it closes from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, Bell said.
The reduced hours save $20,000 annually, Bell said, because fewer people used the facility at those times. A survey showed an average of four people swam at the center during the 1 to 3:30 p.m. time slot and about 10 swam there on Sundays.
Bell said that if membership increases and the budget allows, the center will resume its former hours. Until then, he said members who want to swim during those times can do so at the Charlotte Avenue branch.
The drop in revenue also has caused the YMCA to hold non-essential positions open and to eliminate one full-time position, Bell said.
Over the past year, six professional staff members have resigned and were not replaced, which leaves the YMCA with 26 full-time staff. Holding staff positions vacant has saved about $250,000, Bell said.
"It's a painless way to deal with the budget," he said.
One full-time position and a few part-time positions were eliminated when a decision was made to use a contract cleaning service instead of an in-house crew, which saves $50,000 a year.
"The new cleaning service can come in at night and clean. It was hard to clean while members are using the facility," he said.
Bell said no other part-time positions have been affected. The organization employs about 500 part-time staff during the winter, he said.
Bell said the YMCA membership is competitive with similar facilities; it offers no joining fee each January, and members are not bound to a contract. Regional membership fees for a two-adult family with dependents is $71 a month and for a single adult, the cost is $50 per month.
Bell said the YMCA is strong, and that it isn't going anywhere. "We have been here 95 years and we will be open at least another 95 years," Bell said.
To balance its budget, the Upper Palmetto YMCA has taken these steps:
A salary freeze for employees.
Reduced hours at the Rock Hill Aquatic Center. The center won't open on Sunday, and it closes from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Hired a contract cleaning crew to replace its in-house cleaning crew, which eliminated one full-time staff member and a few part-time positions.