Foothills grappling with budget challenges

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By Ramsey Scott

The Foothills Park and Recreation District has begun discussing how it will finance more than $35 million in capital repairs to park facilities, and how it will cope with a projected budget shortfall of more that $1.4 million by 2018.

Foothills Executive Director Ron Hopp said that over the last several years, the district has frozen salaries and delayed capital projects to stay within its budget.

“It’s certainly better than it was five years ago, because staff and the board have been working very hard in developing efficiencies and maximizing revenues,” Hopp said. “But we’re kind of running out of those kind of options to maximize revenues. That’s why we’re going to start the discussion about a potential mill levy increase in the future.”

The projected revenues for the district for the next five years are about $21.3 million a year — around  $1 million less than what the district brought in this year.

Yet the district’s expenditures are expected to rise much faster than revenue. The cost of health insurance for employees is going up; a 2.5 percent increase in wages is forecast over the five years; and the cost of heating and cooling district facilities is expected to jump $500,000.

If the projections hold true, the district will see a $160,000 deficit by 2015, a shortfall that will increase with each succeeding year. And that’s without taking into account the more than $35 million in repairs needed in the district’s parks.

When the needed capital projects are included, the projected annual shortfall jumps to more than $4 million.

“One of the ways we’ve been able to maintain those levels of services is because we’re not addressing those capital needs,” Hopp said.

In Clement Park alone, an estimated $3.8 million in repairs is needed. Much of what needs replacing, including the park’s core building, which is sinking, and the irrigation system, were installed 25 years ago.

If the capital issues are not addressed, Hopp said, not only will the repairs become more expensive, the quality of the parks will deteriorate to the point where they might have to be shut down for safety reasons.

That’s why Hopp said he wants the board to consider a boost in the property tax that could expire after the capital projects were completed.

“In order to be fiscally responsible, you would be faced with very drastic cuts, and those cuts would be to services to the public,” Hopp said. “Yet once you start eroding those services, and affecting those revenue streams, it becomes a snowball going down the hill.”

Foothills has failed twice in recent years, in 2006 and 2008, to get a tax increase approved by voters. Hopp said he hopes residents will recognize the work the district has done to boost efficiency and save money.
Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22 and follow him on Twitter @ramseycolumbine.