Community centers, pools may get reprieve

March 23, 2010

The Colorado Springs community centers and swimming pools that were poised to close their doors at the end of this month because of budget cuts may stay open after all.

The city is close to signing three-year agreements with two separate groups that submitted proposals to take over operations at some facilities. And a City Council majority wants to tap into reserves to keep the other facilities open through 2010.

Council members who support spending $462,280 from the city’s rainy-day fund said Monday that they want to reward the community’s initiative, which has included everything from bake sales to individual donations. Council members also said extending funding would give the community time to develop other public-private partnerships for 2011.

“This is an extension of bare-bones funding until the end of the year, and then it’s sink or swim,” Councilman Sean Paige said.

“If we can use this time wisely to keep the partnership concept going and build it into something even bigger, we’ll save a lot more money in the long run because the community centers and pools and some of these other facilities will hopefully be self-sustaining,” he said. “I’m willing to spend a little bit more now.”

The council’s meeting Monday is considered an informal work session, and no vote was taken. A decision to spend money from the reserve would have to be placed on a future agenda, and council members also asked to review the details of the proposed agreements.

Last year, the city proposed closing the community centers and pools under the 2010 budget. But the council agreed to spend $402,000 to keep them open for the first part of the year to give their supporters time to come up with funding alternatives.

In the meantime, the city issued a request for proposals to take over operations at the facilities, generating two responses.

The Woodmen Valley Chapel proposed taking over the Westside Community Center, and an unidentified group is interested in running the Aquatic and Fitness Center and two of the city’s four outdoor pools. Officials declined to go into the details of either proposal because of ongoing negotiations.

The money the council is considering taking out of reserves would pay to keep the Deerfield Hills, Hillside and Meadows Park community centers open the rest of the year. The money also would pay for the Therapeutic Recreation program and the pool at the Cottonwood Creek Recreation Center.

Only Councilmen Randy Purvis and Darryl Glenn opposed the funding extension. Councilman Scott Hente was absent.

Glenn said the city, which is projecting a $27 million to $30 million shortfall next year, should be “very cautious” about taking money out of reserves. Glenn also referenced ballot issue 2C, a proposed property tax increase rejected by voters in November.

“When you’re looking at what’s happening in the community, people are voicing their concerns about, ‘OK, so you’re going to punch us by turning off streetlights. You’re going to punch us by taking trash cans out,’” Glenn said. “It’s hard to win over the crowd that you’re trying to convince to raise taxes when you’re making these decisions that appear to be fiscally irresponsible.”

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