The South Suburban Sports Complex building with a sunset behind it.
The Board of Directors meets at the South Suburban Sports Complex at 4810 E. County Line Rd. in Highlands Ranch. Photo courtesy of South Suburban Parks and Recreation District.

The South Suburban Board of Directors unanimously approved a $117 million budget for 2024. 

The document approved by the board on Nov. 8 is titled “2024 Budget Summary” and includes information about the district’s general fund, enterprise fund, debt service fund, conservation trust fund, grant fund and capital projects fund.

Budget expenditures

According to the district’s five-year capital improvement plan, which the board also approved on Nov. 8, South Suburban plans to spend about $30 million on capital improvement projects in 2024.

About $10 million of this is from grants and matching funds from the district’s partners, the document says.

Some of these capital improvement projects include:

  • Renovation of Cherry Knolls Park in Centennial, Cornerstone Park in Englewood and Powers Park in Littleton
  • Well replacement for irrigation at the Lone Tree Golf Course
  • Design and construction of a new outdoor pickleball complex jointly operated by South Suburban and Highlands Ranch Metro District
  • Parking lot repairs at Wynetka Ponds in Littleton
  • Irrigation upgrades at TrailMark Park in Littleton
  • Replacement of facility and park signs throughout the district
  • New park equipment, mowers and vehicles throughout district

The new budget calls for an approximate 1.9% increase in fees and charges for golf and recreation facilities. The district expects these increases to bring in an extra $641,877 of revenue.

Specifically, these changes will increase some annual golf membership costs, greens fees, cart fees and classes, depending on the golf course.

In the recreation department, a list of sports leagues, ice rental prices and camp fees will be increased.

A detailed list of fee increases can be found here.

The budget also adds eight new paid full-time positions to the district staff, including a marketing specialist, assistant forester, two park rangers, aquatics operations specialist, aquatics coordinator, gymnastics assistant and a construction maintenance specialist.

The district will hire six new paid part-time medical eligible employees, including a planning intern, facility assistant at Lone Tree Hub and four pool managers.

Property taxes

South Suburban’s boundaries encompass 46 square miles, including Littleton, Sheridan, Lone Tree, Bow Mar, Columbine Valley, part of Centennial and portions of unincorporated Douglas County, Jefferson County and Arapahoe County.

Over 151,000 residents live within the district and all who own property pay taxes.

The district expects to receive about $36 million from property taxes in 2024.

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This amount is based on the district’s preliminary assessed valuation for 2023, which went from about $3.7 billion in 2023 to $4.6 billion in 2024, reflecting an almost 26% increase.

The board plans to discuss the district’s 2024 mill levy at its next meeting on Dec. 13, district spokesperson Becky Grubb said.

Its mill levy in 2023 was 8.426 mills, or an approximate tax of $8.43 per $1,000 of assessed value, according to the 2023 budget.

In 2019, voters passed a ballot measure that allows the district to increase its mill levy incrementally to offset the loss of revenue as a result of state-mandated property tax assessment rate reductions.

Unless the state changes assessment rates before the end of the year, Hanna said the board would not have reason to increase its mill levy.

Grubb said the district anticipates decreasing its mill levy, based on preliminary assessed valuations from the county.

On Nov. 9, Gov. Jared Polis called state lawmakers into a special legislative session to cut property tax rates and combat the large increases in assessed values that many homeowners across the state received this year.

Budget process

The 2024 budget summary, which the board approved on Nov. 8, is 38 pages long, as compared to the district’s 2023 budget, which is 390 pages long.

Executive Director Rob Hanna said each year the board approves a simplified version of the budget that has bottom-line numbers for each fund.

Before the end of the year, he said, the district’s staff will wrap in the detailed line items in support of each appropriation and publish the full document.

“I think it’s a better use of the elected officials’ time to focus on priorities and goals and let the staff produce the sausage,” Hanna said.

He said district staff presented specific aspects of the budget at public meetings over the past several months, including the five-year capital improvement plan, performance increases, new employee positions and benefits.

The board had three public hearings leading up to the budget approval.

At the first two of these public hearings, no budget draft was available for community members to comment on.

Hanna said this was because the intent of these meetings was for the public to ask for capital projects, reshape priorities and share input that would help guide the development of the budget during its drafting process.

The public hearings were not well-attended.

Grubb said one public commenter spoke about the budget during the public hearings and the district gathered about nine other citizen requests related to the budget throughout 2023.

Elizabeth Watson, a district resident who unsuccessfully ran for the board during its recent election, said she is concerned how little public input was involved in the budget process.

“I think there needs to be a switch in mentality from the board and from the leadership of South Suburban that their number one priority is their taxpayer,” she said. “My concern is that they have lost touch with the people that are supposed to be the foundation of this agency.”

The district posted several times about its budget hearings on Facebook, Instagram and X, formerly known as Twitter. It also posted the meeting agendas on its website. 

Watson said she would like to see the district communicate its budget process to the community by reminding residents of the budget hearings at district events and by sending mailed notices to residents.

Hanna said he thinks the people who are interested in South Suburban’s budget know about the process.

“I think the lack of participation, (on) some level, is the confidence in what we’re doing,” he said. “Given our success on ballot initiatives and things, I think the community’s pretty content and happy with the direction that we’re going and pretty confident in the way that we’re spending taxpayer money.”

Amy Conklin, a resident who attempted to apply for appointment to the board in June, said more public outreach about the budget could be helpful.

“South Suburban may wish to consider embarking on a public outreach campaign to inform people about where their money’s going,” she said.

Grubb said the district values public engagement.

“Community engagement is always a focus when planning the future of our parks, trails and recreation amenities,” she wrote in an email to the Littleton Independent. “We welcome feedback as it helps us determine local and district-wide priorities.”

The board’s next meeting is on Dec. 13.

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