Fun and games survive despite Basalt cuts | AspenTimes.com

Fun and games survive despite Basalt cuts

Basalt officials vow that they won’t let their highly successfully recreation program for kids go downhill despite the layoff of its director.

The town government has come under fire for releasing recreation director Nick Alcorta in budget-cutting moves last week. Alcorta was popular with parents and kids in the midvalley and credited with boosting the program’s level of professionalism since he joined in December 1997.

Up to 400 midvalley kids participate annually in the various programs, many in more than one sport or activity.

Basalt businessman and parent Steve Knous wrote a letter to the Town Council saying he realizes tough and unpopular decisions must be made in tight economic times.

“Your recent decision to terminate Nick Alcorta’s position, however, adversely affects hundreds of children in our community, and I find that very upsetting,” Knous wrote.

He said that Basalt’s recreation program is the envy of towns throughout the Roaring Fork Valley, in large part due to Alcorta’s efforts.

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Knous said that voter approval in the Nov. 5 election of the Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District might remove the need for a town recreation director in the long term, but he is worried Basalt’s program will be inadequate in the short term with Alcorta’s layoff.

“I, for one, am very disappointed that you put the Town’s budget problems on the backs of our children,” Knous concluded. “Our children should be a top priority, and, like it or not, athletics is a key component to any thriving community.

“Your unfortunate decision has angered many in the community you represent and I think you need to let them know what you’re going to do about it.”

Those feelings aren’t isolated. The fate of the recreation program has been discussed in numerous gatherings of parents of school-aged children during last week.

Basalt Town Manager Tom Baker said there are misperceptions surrounding Alcorta’s layoff.

“People aren’t clear that the recreation programs are going to continue as they have in the past,” he said.

Basalt officials did assume that the Crown Mountain recreation district will eventually take over administration of youth baseball, basketball and a variety of other activities, Baker said.

The district was approved by a healthy margin. A property tax to raise funds for operations and maintenance of the district was approved, as was bonding to build recreational facilities and ball fields.

If district organizers can certify a mill levy by Dec. 15, then the district could start receiving funds in early 2003.

Transition anticipated

The town anticipated that a transition period will be required to transfer programs and budgets over to the special district.

“If it takes most of 2003, it takes most of 2003,” said Baker of the transition.

Alcorta’s salary and benefits were essentially the only funds cut from the recreation department’s budget for 2003, Baker said. About $239,000 will be spent by the end of this year. Next year, $191,500 is budgeted for the department, according to town documents.

Once the Crown Mountain recreation district takes over the programs, the town’s budget will be pared back. The town will continue to operate the municipal pool separately from the recreation district and maintain the town parks.

Alcorta’s administrative duties will be taken over by town public services manager Bob Gish. Recreation program coordinator Dorothy Howard will remain a full-time employee in the department.

Alcorta plans to stay

Alcorta said Howard is extremely qualified to coordinate the programs, and he is confident she will do a good job. And Alcorta, a former baseball player in the Cincinnati Reds organization, plans to remain active as a coach in various sports.

He said he will apply as director of the Crown Mountain recreation district and pursue other opportunities locally. He and his wife want to raise their family in the valley.

The irony of his layoff is that Alcorta assisted in the effort to win voter approval of the new recreation district. He essentially worked his way out of one job, and he knew that was a possibility. However, the timing and immediacy of the town’s decision caught him by surprise.

Gish said it is inevitable that Alcorta’s skills and hard work will be missed. His layoff was strictly a business decision, Gish said. But while Alcorta’s expertise will be missed, the town’s service level will not drop, Gish vowed.

As always, the recreation department relies on volunteers for help. Basketball coaches are currently being sought, particularly for the third and fourth grades.

Winter-spring recreation brochures that list the various programs are available at Basalt Town Hall and at the Recreation House in front of Basalt High School. Participants can sign up at Town Hall or the Rec House, or call 927-8214 for registration information.