Foothills weighs fee increases

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By Vicky Gits

The Foothills Park and Recreation District is tackling the sensitive topic of raising fees for youth sports associations, swimming pools, golf and exercise classes in the aftermath of the failure of the mill-levy elections in May and November.

“Fee increases will probably play a large part in the 2009 budget process,” said executive director Ron Hopp, speaking at the regular meeting of the Foothills board on Sept. 9 at The Peak Wellness Center. The first draft of the 2009 budget is to be presented at a public meeting Oct. 14.

Foothills is facing a projected deficit of $4.5 million in the 2009 budget without further cuts. In August, Hopp merged three top director jobs into one, reducing the number of director posts from six to four.

On July 17, the district announced a first round of cost reductions, including cutting hours of seasonal parks workers, increasing rates for high school golf teams and leaving unfilled six full-time vacancies.

Other measures include removing trashcans from greenbelts, not watering some greenbelts and encouraging adopt-a-park programs.

Instead of replacing $1 million of capital equipment, the distsrict will spend only $100,000. Instead of spending $2 million on capital repairs, the district will make do with $200,000 worth, or about 10 percent of what is needed.

But $1.4 million in budget cuts remain to be made for 2009.

Renting practice fields to sports associations, both in and outside the district, historically has been a highly subsidized activity. The district charges only about 23 percent of what it costs to maintain the playing fields.

“I don’t get why we are subsidizing youth associations. Why aren’t we charging on a per-hour basis what it actually costs?” said resident Jill Nunes, recreation supervisor with Highlands Ranch Metro District. Nunes has worked in parks and recreation for about 16 years.

Kevin Brown, supervisor of tennis, athletics and sports, said youth sports associations generate about $225,000 in revenue but cost the district about $1 million a year.

To save money, Brown said, the department had decided to no longer paint fields for the sports associations.

“We are not painting fields in 2009. We decided the sports associations can paint themselves or contract with an outside company,” Brown said.

Brown said a differential pricing policy is in place for shelter rental, but that many non-district residents get around it by getting someone from the district to show an ID.

In fact, several people mentioned that it was difficult if not impossible to police the differential-pricing policy.

“It was a nightmare. Rosters were forged,” Brown said, referring to the sports associations.

Some said the differential can be too high. “Aquatics fees got to a point that the differential was so high that our nonresidents couldn’t afford it,” said Derek Eberhardt, asset manager.

Golf supervisor Tom Woodard noted that 75 percent of his customers are in fact nonresidents, and they pay the same amount as district members. He said he was planning to re-institute a small differential in 2009 because “residents seem to like it.”

Board president Janet Shangraw asked what programs are most deserving of a subsidy.

“The problem is, aquatics needs the biggest subsidy,” Shangraw said. “If it’s not there, you have to either raise the fee or close the facilities.”

“Aquatics is never not subsidized,” she said. “There are fewer subsidy dollars as budget problems increase. We need to get the message out.”

“The differential has to be based on economics,” said Kim Maxey, director of the aquatics program. “If we raise fees, attendance goes down. People are looking for deals. ee We feel we are at the top of our price range.”

Board member Terri Maulik suggested lowering prices and trying to go for higher volume. “At least try it for a while. It shows we care about the economy.”

Foothills snags $73,500 grant from Denver Water

Denver Water agreed to give Foothills a grant worth $73,500 over five years to upgrade software used to operate irrigation systems from a central location.

The radio-based system has been inactive because too many users are on the same conventional 800 MHz radio band. So workers have to travel to various fields to operate the system and check for broken sprinkler heads.

Under a proposal by Gary Ramos, supervisor of urban parks, Foothills will be able to control the system from one location by two-way digital radio and the Internet.

In 2007, Foothills spent the majority of $229,000 to irrigate 167 acres of bluegrass turf with 81 million gallons of water, falling short of its ET requirment of 2.3 acre-feet by nearly an acre-foot per acre, according to the suburban water-saving agreement between Denver and Foothills.

The projected water savings goal is 10.8 million gallons a year.

The grant is part of Denver Water’s Tap + Smart Solutions Program.