Gypsum, Mountain Recreation officials work toward ‘sweet spot’ for operations subsidy
Cost sharing for Gypsum Recreation Center jumped 73% in 2019 and town officials wonder why
GYPSUM — The numbers are up at the Gypsum Recreation Center.
Mountain Recreation officials say they have attracted 655 new members to date in 2019 and recorded 123,754 facility visits from Nov. 1, 2018, through Oct. 31, 2019. On average the center sees 341 daily visitors and the number of fitness classes has doubled since 2017.
But members of the Gypsum Town Council are concerned about one particular number related to the center’s operation this year. That number is $153,050 — the amount the town will be asked to chip in to subsidize the center operations in 2019. It’s a 73% increase over what the town paid in 2018.
Last week, the subsidy issue prompted a special work session between representatives of the town and the recreation district. Gypsum Town Manager Jeremy Rietmann launched the discussion noting the town first realized the issue during its 2020 budget process. He noted that in 2016, the town didn’t have to pay any subsidy money for the center. In 2017, the number was $20,000, and in 2018, the figure had climbed to $86,700.
Town Council members asked a basic question about the subsidy: What changed to make operations so much more expensive? The rec district officials replied that many things are different including vision, leadership and operations.
Liz Jones is the president of the Mountain Recreation Board of Directors. She noted that all the members of the board are relatively new to their posts and with the new members came a new vision.
“We wanted to be more impactful,” said Jones. “We didn’t want to just organize T-ball. We wanted to have facilities that operate more like community centers.”
That vision has meant more outreach, increased staffing, and a comprehensive rebranding. The entity that was known as the Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District for decades became Mountain Recreation.
“The board believes the changes have been in the best interests of the public,” Jones said.
“It’s creating a sea change in our community and one we want to continue,” said Mountain Recreation board member Mike McCormack.
Acknowledging that the two boards had gathered to talk about cost recovery, McCormack first thanked the town of Gypsum for its continued support.
“We are very, very grateful for what you have done for the district and for what a great partner you are,” McCormack said.
A priority, not the priority
McCormack noted when Mountain Recreation Director Janet Bartnik joined the organization two years ago, the board directed her to expand services.
“We said that cost recovery should be a priority, not the priority,” he said.
“When I started in 2017, I was a little surprised at how quiet the rec center was during the day,” Bartnik said. “More seniors classes, more fitness classes and tumble tots have brought more people in.”
Increased numbers meant the need for more staff, Bartnik continued. Then the rec center added staff for safety issues, she said.
Bartnik said staffing numbers and wage increases are the two items that contributed most to the rising center operations costs. “Quite honestly, we struggle to get staff in at minimum wage,” she said.
What’s the plan?
After reviewing the programming and operations changes that resulted in the increased subsidy costs, Gypsum officials pointedly asked what the rec district board planned to do.
Marisa Sato of the Town Council said Mountain Recreation’s goal to expand its presence in the community was laudable, but added that a 73% subsidy increase was alarming.
“What are you doing as a board and as an entity to address these costs?” she asked. “We need to have a plan about what’s going to happen, because next year, I am not going to vote for $300,000 because the subsidy doubled again.”
“While I agree with all your programming and all you are doing, you are a taxing entity just like we are,” said Town Councilman Tom Edwards. “I do like what you are doing, but I think think that numbers have some importance here. I would like to see an effort made to keep the town’s contribution minimal.”
“This board is big thinkers,” responded Jones. “What are we doing about it? We are talking about increasing our revenues and different scenarios to expand our facilities.”
Bartnik said Mountain Recreation has just begun exploring a sponsorship program. Additionally, the district could go to the voters for a property tax increase or increase the costs of programs.
“We approach that number (participation fees) with a great deal of concern,” McCormack said. He noted at $30 per program, Mountain Recreation options are affordable for most families in the district.
“Our obligation, while thinking big, is to think fiscally responsibly,” McCormack continued, “I think we are thinking exactly the same. We want to come back with a smaller number next year.”
Everyone at the table agreed that the subsidy discussion also will happen earlier in 2020. When the deal for the rec center support was hammered out years ago, it included a provision that the two boards would gather in early September to discuss cost recovery. By addressing the issue sooner in the fall and working to stabilize spending, the Mountain Recreation representatives re-iterated how much they value the Gypsum partnership.
“We want to find that sweet spot where everyone is comfortable with their contribution,” Jones said.
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