MEEKER I As tax revenue freefalls in Rio Blanco County, special districts are facing difficult decisions about where, when and how to spend increasingly limited funds, and the ERBM Recreation & Park District board is no exception.
The full board of directors met Tuesday, Aug. 10 to discuss capital improvement project plans for phase two of the Circle Park pond/river corridor enhancement, Ute Park trails development and repairs to the Meeker Recreation Center, including the need to replace the pool’s HVAC unit, soffit repair, exterior painting, and an ongoing fiber installation. The board also reviewed their park lease agreement.
ERBM employees Katie Day and Chance Walker expressed concerns during visitor comments about upcoming changes to mill levy calculations and additional capital improvement project (CIP) spending in uncertain economic times. Day stated that while they are happy to cut operating budgets as much as they can, “we’d seriously like you to consider not entertaining CIP because of the sustainability of the budget.”
According to projections, ERBM will need to draw various amounts out of reserves for the next eight years straight to cover operations, personnel and scheduled maintenance of existing district assets. The projections do not include monies for other capital improvements, such as the proposed Circle Park phase 2 project, or unexpected costs, like the pool HVAC replacement. They also do not include potential grant or other funding options, or possible changes (positive or negative) to the district’s revenue base.
CIRCLE PARK PHASE TWO
Following visitor comments, the board launched into CIP discussions beginning with phase two of the Circle Park pond project and river corridor enhancements. To-date, the Circle Park pond renovation has cost approximately $667,000, with the net cost to the district after grants and partnerships hovering around $425,000.
According to preliminary estimates, further improvements at Circle Park, in-river and along Third Street would be another $855,000. Board president Kent Walter suggested combining all the estimates into one big project to present a more competitive option for potential grants and creating a two to three year timeline for getting things rolling, in addition to pursuing other partners to help fund the project. “I understand the spiral that our budget is in, but I also think we need to finish that project down there,” Walter said.
Director Dan Chinn had a different take, voicing concerns that the project was conceived in the midst of a large revenue stream and continuing to fund it during an economic downturn would eventually lead to program and staff cuts and impair the district’s ability to complete required maintenance on existing ERBM infrastructure. He also expressed a problem with asking district staff to cut budgets while simultaneously spending “millions of dollars on both sides of the river,” on assets not owned by the district. “It’s foolish in my opinion to even consider it … we’re headed south, we cannot pay the bills. It’s a matter of how fast we want to get there. I cannot vote for it with a clear conscience.”
Director Rob Baughman agreed money could be tough to find for the project and that the timeline might need to be extended. Director Travis Mobley expressed concerns about addressing erosion to the river banks. Director John Strate stated he was conflicted, but would hate to table the project completely as he believes the town may be interested in funding a good chunk. “I don’t want to throw away the money we’ve spent already by not finishing the project out. It feels like your kid is about to graduate college and drops out at the last semester,” Strate said.
The Town of Meeker board of trustees and some members of the ERBM board will discuss the matter further at a joint meeting next Tuesday, Aug. 17, at Town Hall at 5:30 p.m. They will also discuss a letter of support for continued Ute Park trail expansion and potential issues with grazing on the property, as well as potential changes to a parks lease agreement.
POOL HVAC SYSTEM & SOFFIT REPAIR
The board then discussed replacing the pool’s HVAC system. According to Maintenance Manager Rodney Gerloff, the original unit was engineered improperly and is undersized, meaning it works at capacity 100% of the time and still cannot keep natatorium temperature/humidity levels stable or properly purge the air of chloramines. This creates uncomfortable conditions for patrons and staff, as well as potential structural damage due to high humidity.
The price tag on the replacement unit will be upwards of $800,000, according to Executive Director Sean VonRoenn, and the amount has not been scheduled in budget projections to-date. Manager Dondi Glasscock added, “we could face closures because the environment … guest services refunded lots of money and staff are also really struggling … this is a true operational consideration of infrastructure and there is no workaround. It’s a big deal.”
The board also discussed a soffit repair project as well as repainting the building exterior. Approximate cost will be $35,000.
Another ongoing capital improvement project at the recreation center is the installation of fiber and local area network infrastructure. Fiber will replace existing copper cat5 cables, which are beginning to degrade. PCs, phones, and other hardware will also be replaced. The project is approximately $15,000 over budget at $180,000, according to VonRoenn. Glasscock stated they were thankful the project could be completed at all after many supply chain issues and delays due to COVID. “We feel very fortunate to have the county’s head IT person (Trevor Nielsen) in charge … it’s a time sensitive thing and the window of options is closing rapidly.”
Final installation will require a seven-day closure, which is tentatively scheduled for the annual shutdown next year.
The board did not take any official action. At the close of the meeting, the board thanked staff for their input. “We’re listening,” Walter said. Chinn reiterated, “think about staff and the messages we’re sending them . .. how much do you want to spend on other things and ask them to pinch pennies?”
Chinn then shared a bit of good news with the board–the Meeker Marlins swim team broke a state record and brought home a state trophy, and Shelly Rogers was named Coach of the Year for a second time.
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