Budget cuts to freeze Aspen Ice Garden? | AspenTimes.com

Budget cuts to freeze Aspen Ice Garden?

ASPEN ” City officials are proposing to close the Aspen Ice Garden for nearly half the year, potentially shutting out hundreds of residents and their families who recreate at the facility.

Aspen Recreation Director Tim Anderson said he, like all City Hall department heads, has been mandated to slash 10 percent from his department’s budget in response to the national recession.

Closing the ice garden for five and a half months, from April through September, as well as reducing hours at the Aspen Recreation Center on weekends, would save an estimated $200,000, Anderson said.

“I did what I was asked to do and now it’s up to the council,” said Anderson, adding elected officials will review the proposed budget cuts from department heads and re-evaluate the 2009 budget on Feb. 10.

During the summer, the ice garden accounts for numerous uses, including junior hockey, public figure skating, men’s pick-up hockey, rec league hockey, hockey schools and other programs.

“For summer use, things are well used,” Anderson said. “Every single user group uses it.”

To avoid layoffs, employees who work at the ice garden would be moved to other areas of the recreation department, namely the Aspen Golf Course, which is owned and managed by the city. Anderson said about three staffers would be affected.

The ice garden is a publicly subsidized facility. In 2008, the ice garden brought in $351,093 in revenue and it had $565,698 in expenses, making the taxpayer subsidy $221,345, according to Aspen City Finance Director Don Taylor.

In response to concerns levied by Al Beyer, a hockey player who has used the ice garden for the past 24 years, Anderson wrote in an e-mail that the facility will lose a minimal amount of revenue but that it will be transferred over to Lewis Ice Arena at the ARC if programs are reinstated there.

“We actually have the potential for increasing revenues as we have interested parties who would like to use the dry floor,” Anderson wrote.

“If council chooses to go this direction I hope it is only temporary but our goal was to maintain programs and availability of facilities to patrons while meeting the budget goals and this direction achieves that. Thanks for understanding,” Anderson continued.

Beyer said the proposal falls short in finding an equitable solution, arguing city employees will still be paid.

“As a taxpayer I’ll still end up paying for salaries because those funds will still need to come out of the coffers somewhere but a large group of citizens will have lost 5 1/2 months of use at one of Aspen’s deep-rooted community amenities,” Beyer wrote to Anderson.

Beyer said on Wednesday that under Anderson’s proposal, he and hundreds of others will lose their services at the ice garden while the golf course will benefit with more staff.

“A lot of things haven’t been thought out,” he said.

Beyer argues that there are a number of areas where city recreation officials could creatively tighten their belts.

“They are taking the easy path and there’s got to be a way to be more efficient,” he said. “I would hope he [Anderson] would have our best interests in mind and I don’t feel that’s the case.”

David Miller, who has been playing hockey at the ice garden since the early 1990s, said he wants to see a profit-and-loss statement for the facility’s operation to track its finances. He said the recreation department needs more oversight and accountability.

“I think Tim is taking the easy way out,” he said, adding he understands that hard financial times could mean cuts in services, but putting the burden solely on the ice garden is inequitable and will put more stress on the Lewis Ice Arena.

If the ice garden is shut down, it’s unclear how the user groups from there will be prioritized at the Lewis Ice Arena. Anderson said there are no proposed time slots but once he gets direction from the City Council, he will meet with user groups to work out a schedule. That meeting will likely be in late February.

csack@aspentimes.com


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