Imagine Colorado Springs with no community or recreation centers, no sports programs for youth or adults, no Pioneers Museum or City Auditorium.
Why do such a thing? Well most, if not all, of those things could disappear in the city's next round of budget cuts.
City Manager Penny Culbreth-Graft is meeting individually with City Council members this week to preview the cuts she'll suggest the full group consider Tuesday, Jan. 27. She may be looking to eliminate even more than the latest high-end estimate of $16.7 million from the 2009 general fund budget.
"It's gonna be a very tough decision this time," City Councilor Jerry Heimlicher said Tuesday, before being briefed on Culbreth-Graft's specific list. "Certainly, nothing is trumped-up."
The Springs' elected leaders understand that decimated sales-tax revenues have put them in an unenviable position. And while no action is scheduled for Tuesday's meeting, Heimlicher, for one, is already thinking about having to swing the ax.
"I don't see a way to not cut public safety now," Heimlicher says. "Police and fire can't go unscathed this time."
The same could be said for mass transit, which could see bus service severely cut on nights and weekends, and the end of express service to Denver during the week. Or for bridge and road repair.
But as of now, the most chilling chatter is coming out of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services.
"The toughest one for me is community centers and the senior center," Heimlicher says. "I don't see how we can tell people, especially kids and seniors, they have nowhere else to go, at times like this. There's never been a more important time for that than now. But we know we have to look at everything."
Ripping at the fabric
The department known as Parks and Rec covers much of the fabric of life in Colorado Springs, including six community centers, two recreation centers, the City Auditorium and Pioneers Museum, the Golden Circle food assistance program, day care, after-school care, senior programs, health programs and Paralympics. Its sports include basketball, baseball, softball, soccer and more.
The department's recreation programs alone serve more than 50,000 adults and kids. And the community centers' numbers aren't even calculable beyond the programs offered, the buildings serve as gathering places for local organizations and nonprofits.
People agree that the programs and facilities are popular and well-used. Yet four Parks and Rec employees, all wishing to remain anonymous, say the programs could vanish and the facilities could close. And Ron Cousar, the city's recreation services manager, says so on the record.
"That's right, all of it: the community centers, the rec centers, our youth and adult sports programs," he says. "City Auditorium we would close the doors."
Parks and rec staffers know their jobs and programs are in peril, Cousar confirms, and department administrators have been asked to submit budgets for all their individual programs.
"It's been troubling," Cousar says. "If you've been in the business of serving people the bulk of your professional life, and you come across a situation where you are not able to provide those programs, you feel the loss to the community."
"What will the young folks do in the summer without our programs?" he continues. "What will the police do, with the increased number of youth not participating in our programs? That's the impact we have to look at."
A city without a recreation program would be a dismal place to Colleen Noyes. An avid volleyball player who has played in the city's leagues for six years, Noyes was at a game last week at Panorama Middle School when the site supervisor handed out letters asking participants to contact their city council representatives to voice their concerns about the rumored cuts.
Noyes says the news "was absolutely devastating," and made her want to do something. So she's organized what she calls a "peaceful protest," from 2 to 4 p.m. Friday in front of City Hall. She's sent e-mail alerts to 350 people, printed 200 fliers to distribute at schools, and posted information on her Facebook and MySpace sites.
"I want people to let the city know how they feel," she says. "I've asked everyone to bring signs that show how they feel, how important these programs are to them."