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City Manager cuts environmental education, not grass, and gives himself a raise

If you didn't see my last column on Gov. Bill Owens' line-item cuts in the Colorado Council for the Arts' budget, let me recap: Colorado may soon rank 50th in funding for the arts once the fiscal year 2003 budget is signed into law (after elections, of course).

To put it in monetary terms, Colorado may very well be spending 26 cents per year per person on arts and culture compared to the national average of $1.46 per person per year.

If you didn't think the stink was going to waft our way, think again. Colorado Springs City Manager Lorne Kramer has taken Owens' lead here on the homefront with proposed cuts in the city budget that will eliminate funding for the Beidelman Environmental Center, cut all city support for the Fine Arts Center and shut down the Colorado Springs Symphony Orchestra's summer concert series (including the 4th of July concert at Memorial Park), among other things.

Let's take a look at a few of the many ironies in the proposed cuts in the parks, recreational and cultural parts of the Colorado Springs budget and focus on the proposed closure of Beidelman Environmental Center.

According to Paul Butcher, director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services, the "primary focus [of the Beidelman Environmental Center] is on educating young people on a variety of environmental issues."

Every year, said Butcher, approximately 8,500 to 10,000 school children are taken through the center's programs which include programs on water conservation, Xeriscaping, energy conservation, identifying the native wildlife (nesting birds, deer and a couple of beavers) and many other basic elements of environmental education.

Aside from the programs that affect school children, Butcher estimates that Beidelman's various community outreach programs affect "about 85,000" people a year. Most affected, however, said Butcher, would be the school kids.

Irony #1: Kramer is proposing to cut Beidelman's entire budget, cutting thousands of kids off from water conservation and Xeriscaping education in a year when Colorado Springs is in the midst of the worst drought in over a 100 years!

Irony #2: While the entire Beidelman operating budget was only $83,845, city-owned Patty Jewett and Valley Hi golf courses and their environmentally sound, water-efficient acres of green grass will be getting a combined budget increase of $45,493 for salaries and benefits.

Irony #3: While we can all be happy that everyone in city government will be getting a raise in a year of extreme budget deficit, we can be especially giddy that the Office of the City Manager (that would be Lorne Kramer and his eight-member support staff who made the budget) stands to get a $37,925 salary and benefit increase. Add that $37,925 to the $45,493 from the golf courses and that brings us up to $83,418, almost the exact amount of the Beidelman center's operating costs. All of these proposed cuts and increases will be discussed at a public hearing on Oct. 17 at City Hall, beginning at 7 p.m.

Why Beidelman's meager budget can't be gleaned from $3.5 million in state lottery revenues allocated for maintenance of existing parks and trail systems or from the $5.7 million in TOPS funds designated for maintenance of and development of parks is beyond me. Perhaps the "restricted use" clauses on these funds mean that the Beidelman Center would have to be eliminated and then re-created as a "new" facility to receive any of these monies. A planned, new adult softball complex, after all, will be getting $225,000 so that our always environmentally aware citizenry can enjoy even more large, lovely, environmentally sound swaths of green, green grass.

While these city budget cuts also mean that Fine Arts Center patrons will no longer be able to enjoy free admission on Saturdays, FAC Director David Turner says he's thankful that the Fine Arts Center doesn't rely more heavily on city and state funds, which are all but disappearing. According to Turner, if these cuts go through, the FAC will be 99.7 percent privately funded.

The good news is that the culture of Colorado Springs is, privately, thriving. Go to the Fine Arts Center this Friday for the opening of Lateral Thinking and then head down to 32 Bleu for their official grand opening and, hey, you just might start feeling like we actually live in a city of half a million.

--nblack@csindy.com

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