Foothills' 2009 budget freezes salaries, trims maintenance

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By AJ Vicens

The proposed 2009 budget for the financially strapped Foothills Park and Recreation District marks a "crossroads" for the district, according to executive director Ron Hopp.

Cuts will be made in equipment maintenance, employee pay and building repairs, but Hopp says the district is only delaying the inevitable.

"We're obviously at a huge crossroads at Foothills Park and Recreation District," Hopp told the board of directors on Oct. 14. "Everyone knows the district has experienced two failed mill levies in the past two years." Hopp said he was hired to find efficiencies and to find ways to live within the budget.

It's not going to be easy, Hopp told the board, but the message from the voters was clear.

"I interpreted the message from the voters as a strong communication that we currently have enough funding to provide the services and improvements that we want," Hopp said. "The sad reality is that we don't."

The proposed budget becomes the adopted budget if the board approves it Dec. 9. Until then, Hopp, his staff and the board will review the specifics.

In a followup interview Oct. 20, Hopp said the failed tax increases are a message from residents that the district should operate on the funds it already has. Hopp said that, in putting together the proposed budget, he and his staff found all the efficiencies they could, and it will likely end up costing the district and therefore taxpayers more in the long run.

Hopp has proposed spending $100,000 in 2009 on equipment maintenance and repairs. The district has about $10 million in equipment and should spend $1 million per year on maintenance, Hopp said.

He's also proposed spending $200,000 in 2009 on building and facility maintenance and repairs. That's 10 percent of the $2 million per year that’s needed, Hopp said.

"We have very little capital dollars," Hopp said. "If a facility experiences some sort of damage or something happens, or there's an equipment failure, we don't have funds to fix those types of things."

If damage occurs to a facility, it may have to be closed, Hopp said.

The budget as it stands does not call for any facilities to be closed in 2009, and it "kind of keeps a minimum level of service going," Hopp said. But the lack of equipment and facility upkeep and an employee salary freeze in 2009 are big problems, Hopp said.

The budget plans on $23.9 million in revenues and $23.4 million in spending in 2009. Hopp and his staff have tried to find ways to work within the budget — by not spending the $900,000 on equipment repairs and upgrades, $1.8 million in building upkeep and about $400,000 in employee raises. The district will spend $3.9 million on debt payments in 2009.

"We're doing everything we can, but we're at this crossroads," Hopp said. "We're hoping that the community will understand were are developing efficiencies, and if we want to continue to improve facilities, improve parks and services and take care of those things, we're going to need their support."

With families facing their own budget shortages and governments from small park districts up to the national level facing tough times, why should the South Jeffco community support a tax increase to give to Foothills?

"With an enhanced quality of life in the community comes enhanced property values and an enhanced reason to live in a particular area," Hopp said. "In the areas where there are golf courses and trails and recreational facilities, you have enhanced property values."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.