Centennial-area parks and rec agencies take hit

Pandemic means furloughs, lost rental fees, project delays

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A parks and recreation district in the east Centennial area has furloughed 193 employees and expects more than half a million dollars’ worth of delays to projects aimed at improving the district, as COVID-19’s economic turbulence rolls on.

“For 2020, we are estimating that we will need to cut $650,000 of capital project funding,” said Lynn Cornell, district manager for the Arapahoe Park and Recreation District.

Meanwhile, Arapahoe County Open Spaces — the county government’s recreation department — hasn’t seen any layoffs or furloughs since the pandemic reached Colorado, but it has lost about $75,000 from rental cancellations at the county’s Fairgrounds Event Center alone, said Luc Hatlestad, county spokesman.

The open space department oversees facilities such as the Arapahoe Road Trailhead on the Cherry Creek Trail, near South Parker Road. Arapahoe Park and Recreation District — an entity separate from the county — runs the Trails Recreation Center, at 16799 E. Lake Ave., Centennial.

Parks and trails in the Centennial area are mostly overseen by South Suburban Parks and Recreation in the city’s west and central parts, by Arapahoe Park and Recreation District generally east of South Parker Road, and by Arapahoe County Open Spaces. The City of Centennial owns Centennial Center Park and a few other spaces.

Arapahoe Park and Recreation District (APRD) says it serves about 55,000 district residents.

Here’s a look at how the pandemic is affecting APRD and the county’s open space department.

Project delays

For APRD, officials hope projects affected by cuts this year will only be delayed until 2021, Cornell said. 

“There are a number of issues that may impact special districts such as ours in the future: Length of pandemic, adjusted operational scenarios to accommodate the opening of the Trails Recreation Center” such as social distancing, mandatory occupancy reductions, cancellation of classes and programs, and so on, Cornell said.

There “remain too many unknowns to come up with a definitive plan at this time,” Cornell added.

The county department’s current projects under construction are funded with revenue it has on hand, Hatlestad said.

“So we won’t be making adjustments to our 2020 work plan,” he said. “Our (fiscal year) 2021 projects also will use existing funds.”

Steep losses

With the Trails Recreation Center temporarily closed due to the pandemic, APRD is losing budgeted revenues of roughly $220,000 per month, Cornell said.

“We do not have enough 2020 history to fully understand how the pandemic will impact (other) revenue streams,” such as funding that arises from gambling in Colorado, Cornell said.

The district is largely funded by property tax revenue but can apply for funding of up to $185,000 each year from the City of Centennial. The funds come out of the Arapahoe County open space sales and use tax, Cornell said, which distributes revenue to participating cities and towns in the county based on population. APRD also can apply for competitive grants through the county’s open space sales and use tax program. 

The county open space department is primarily funded by county sales and use tax as well. 

“As with other agencies and municipalities that utilize sales tax as their funding source, we expect somewhat lower revenue due to the shutdown, but the amount is (to be determined),” Hatlestad said.

Funds saved up  

APRD has money saved up over the years — in budget speak, that’s called “fund balance” — but it does not anticipate having to use those funds, Cornell said.

The district’s total fund balance is roughly $2.4 million, according to Cornell. As of mid-May, the district has not discussed laying off staff, Cornell added.

In terms of fund balance, the county open space department has roughly $22 million in money used for acquisition and construction, and between $3 million and $5 million in maintenance and administrative funds, according to Shannon Carter, a county official. The department does not anticipate any layoffs or furloughs in the near future, Hatlestad said.

“Overall, we want people to get outdoors, recreate safely and responsibly, and enjoy the spaces that our residents and visitors make possible through the Arapahoe County open space sales and use tax,” Hatlestad said.

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