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Rec district discusses solutions to budget shortfall

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By Emile Hallez

Foothills Park & Recreation District is facing a $143,000 budget shortfall for 2012, and its board of directors is considering the short-term solution of dipping into savings to bridge the gap.

Though using savings could prevent the district from closing facilities or laying off employees in the immediate future, a more concrete solution could be necessary to prevent drastic cuts.

The working budget already includes two fewer full-time positions eliminated through attrition and a pay freeze for all employees. Additionally, the district would not cover increases in the cost of health-care premiums for its workers without a modification to the budget.

“Is it time to look at closing a facility?” chairwoman Jill Nunes said at the board’s Aug. 9 meeting, opening up discussion following a short budget presentation. “I don’t know how staff is going to cut another $143,000 out of their budget.”

Despite the suggestion, the prospect of closing a facility seems unlikely in the near future. Though the district could save $50,000 to $60,000 annually for each outdoor swimming pool it would close, all such facilities would have to be closed to fully recoup the revenue loss, executive director Ron Hopp said.

The discussion, which took place well after a group of local homeowners harangued the board for its decision to place 30 acres of its open space on the market, seemed to reinforce the district’s conviction that selling land is the most realistic means of generating additional revenue.

Due to decreased property assessments across the county, the district likely will see a drop in property-tax revenue in the coming year.

“I don’t care about dipping into the reserves next year. It’s the year after that I’m worried about,” board member Judy Johnson said.

Before any additional measures are taken, board member John Bradley Jr. encouraged Hopp to direct his staff to review the budget an additional time, keeping an eye out for potential savings.

Further, several board members supported the idea of forming a community panel tasked with streamlining the budget.

“We’re not (currently) taking advantage of that. We’re not getting citizen input on our budget,” board member Terri Maulik said. “If you pull the whole community in, they’ll understand the pickle we’re in.”

The idea of community input seemed to resonate with the board, particularly after members expressed frustration that most of the distraught homeowners left the meeting before the budget presentation.

“I’m as frustrated as anybody that only the controversy brings people in here,” Hopp said, noting that suggestions for a conservation easement or an offer to sell the land to the homeowners would not attract as much money as an outright sale. “A conservation easement will not generate $2.7 million. … (And) I’m sure the homeowners will not buy it for $2.7 million.”

Board member Keith Sutton, however, suggested the district use controversy to its advantage.

“There is a way to manipulate it, and that is to create controversy,” he said. “We announce what facilities we’re going to close, and that’ll get them in here.”

 

Contact Emile Hallez Williams at emile@evergreenco.comor 303-933-2233, ext. 22. For updates, check www.ColumbineCourier.com.