Rec. dept., ARC under scrutiny |

Rec. dept., ARC under scrutiny

Janet Urquhart

The city’s hope to subsidize operation of the Aspen Recreation Center by no more than $300,000 a year was “overly optimistic,” according to outside consultants who are helping prepare a business plan for the city’s recreation programs.The initial findings by Pros Consulting were presented to the City Council earlier this week.While the city tries to make its recreation programs more cost-efficient, one employee predicted more staff cuts are coming as the city tries to streamline its operation of both the ARC and the recreation program in general.Sarah Murray, director of the summer day-camp program for six years, told The Aspen Times that she has been informed her job is on the chopping block.”I’m enormously disappointed about this decision. The level of services that the day camp has provided in the past few years will drop significantly next summer,” Murray said. “This saddens me tremendously. The families in this community deserve more.”Hopefully, the City Council will reconsider this decision.”The day camp serves anywhere from 65 to 85 youngsters daily during the summer, when they are not in school, she said.Three full-time employees at the ARC were laid off earlier this year, and a few other positions were reportedly cut about a month ago.No decisions about eliminating additional staffers have been finalized, according to recreation director Tim Anderson, but the department will be looking at more cost-effective ways to provide services. That may entail using full-time staffers to run programs rather than bringing back summer staff, he said.”I haven’t cut any positions right now, officially,” Anderson said.With the City Council set to begin its review of the 2005 budget on Monday, the recreation department is currently working with the consultants to create a model that will allow the city to analyze the cost of running its recreation program. It will identify needed price adjustments for programs, the number of participants needed at a given fee for a program, and the cost to operate a particular facility and/or program.”It will identify where every penny goes,” Anderson said.With that model, the city will be able to analyze the amount of subsidy required for each recreation program it provides.”We’re simply trying to become more businesslike and efficient while providing programs,” Anderson said.That’s not to say recreation programming will become profitable, or even break even, but the city would like to keep the amount by which it subsidizes the programs in check, he said.At the ARC specifically, Anderson said his preliminary 2005 budget of $1.9 million in operating costs will be offset by about $1.4 million in revenues – or a 75 percent cost recovery.This year’s projected revenues of $1.1 million at the ARC represent 53 percent of the costs of its operation, he said.The ARC opened in the spring of 2003 and generated more revenue in its first year than is typical for a new facility, according to the consultants. However, the projected subsidy of $300,000 was overly optimistic, they concluded.Recent and ongoing staffing adjustments “are delivering a more efficient and balanced operation,” the consultants noted.Among the positives noted by the consultants were:• The ARC saw a 38 percent increase in use in June, July and August over the summer of 2003, resulting in about a $2,000-per-day increase over original revenue projections.• The ARC has realized a 50-50 split between local users and tourists during the high seasons – about seven months of the year. In the summer of 2003, about 23 percent of the ARC users were tourists, Anderson noted.• A survey of 300 people indicated 60 percent of area households have used the ARC within the past year and 73 percent of households with children have used the facility. Satisfaction with the ARC hovers at 90 percent.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is