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Aspen Recreation Center may add weights

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

How much the city needs to budget to subsidize the new Aspen Recreation Center in 2004 is a big question, but aerobics and a weight room may help reduce the sum.

The city Recreation Department is poised to seek proposals from local gym operators to run an aerobics/weight room operation at the ARC in the hopes of boosting pass sales – and revenues.

The city anticipated a $300,000 annual subsidy for the ARC when it was built. It opened last spring, featuring two swimming pools, an ice rink, climbing wall and the new Aspen Youth Center. But use lagged behind projections in its initial months of operation.

How much to plug in as a subsidy in 2004 is one of the variables the City Council must grapple with as it reviews next year’s budget – a process that began Wednesday.

Among the major policy issues on the council’s plate is whether or not it should add the additional recreational amenities at the ARC and look to the private sector to operate them.

A third-floor conference room at the ARC could be used for aerobic exercise, while an unfinished basement locker room could be outfitted for weight training, according to Jeff Woods, parks director. A private operator could provide the $50,000 or so in necessary equipment, as well as the staffing, he said. The city would lease the space.

“We’re finding a lot of people out there are saying their needs aren’t met [at the ARC],” said Steve Barwick, city manager. “They say they would come to this facility if it had aerobics and resistance training.”

The price to use the ARC wouldn’t necessarily go up as a result of the added amenities, according to Woods.

“What we’re looking for is additional people coming into our facility,” he said.

The subsidy for the ARC is but one piece of a $15.5 million general fund in 2004 that reflects the revenues and expenditures for much of the operation of city government.

It is actually down 1.1 percent from the operating budget adopted for 2003, though it reflects a 3 percent, across-the-board increase in all pay ranges for employees and a 10 percent hike in what the city pays toward health insurance (employees face a 12 percent increase in what they pay).

To accomplish the decrease, Barwick said he and the finance director went through department budgets line by line.

“We had to cut lots of other operating items,” he said. “Is it sustainable? Barely. It’s very tight.”

The city has about $2 million in “rainy day funds” it can tap if, for example, a copy machine breaks down. Tight times are what that money is there for, Barwick said.

The budget reflects a 3 percent increase in spending for arts groups, a total of $312,000, from Wheeler Opera House funds; and a 3 percent hike in grants to nonprofits and health/human services, for a total of about $688,000.

The parks and open space fund budget includes a potential $7 million bond issue next year, and $11 million in 2005, using the proceeds from a recently approved half-cent sales tax. The borrowing may be necessary for open space purchases such as private land on Smuggler Mountain.

On the revenue side, the city is anticipating no increase in sales tax revenues over this year, but a 1 percent hike over what was collected in 2002. Real estate transfer tax revenues dedicated to housing and the Wheeler are projected to grow by 2 percent.

The council will be debating various fee hikes, including whether the Community Development Department should recoup more from developers for the time it spends on development applications.

Full-price green fees at the city golf course are slated to go from $85 to $90, but the more controversial issue is likely to be any changes the council makes to local pass prices.

The $720 full pass for a local player could be modified so it’s good for a finite number of rounds, with the ability to add rounds at a specified price.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]


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