South Suburban election winners face tough decisions

Parks and rec district facing deep cuts after pandemic shutdowns

David Gilbert
dgilbert@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 5/8/20

The winners of the South Suburban Parks and Recreation District board election will face very different issues than they campaigned on. Two seats were up for grabs May 5 on the five-member board. …

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South Suburban election winners face tough decisions

Parks and rec district facing deep cuts after pandemic shutdowns

Posted

The winners of the South Suburban Parks and Recreation District board election will face very different issues than they campaigned on.

Two seats were up for grabs May 5 on the five-member board. Incumbent Jim Taylor won his reelection bid with 846 votes, and former Centennial city councilmember Ken Lucas won the other open seat with 1,079 votes. Army veteran Michelle Cuellar came in third with 707 votes.

Taylor and Lucas join current board members Pete Barrett, Dave Lawful and Susan Pye. Because of a change in state law regarding the timing of special district elections, the upcoming term will be three years instead of four.

But while Taylor and Lucas both campaigned on building on South Suburban's ambitious master plan and capital improvement plan, the COVID-19 shutdown means the sprawling parks and recreation district that operates rec centers and parks across the south metro area is facing hard times.

The shutdown has cost the district millions in revenue, executive director Rob Hanna said in April. Though the district reopened its golf courses, the vast majority of its facilities remain shuttered with no set date for reopening. Hundreds of staff have been indefinitely furloughed.

Lucas, a Vietnam veteran retired after a career in business management and corporate finance, said the first order of business for the new board is to “stop the bleeding.”

“Revenues are way short of expenses, and the district is burning through its reserves,” Lucas said. “The three-year budget will have to be thrown out the window.”

Lucas said he's had lots of professional experience turning around struggling financial situations, and stands ready to make hard decisions about South Suburban's budget.

“Things won't be the same as they were,” Lucas said. “Be prepared for some cuts. We'll see what's necessary at a minimum service level, and what capital expenditures we can kick down the road.”

Lucas said he's lived in the district since 1983 and is an avid user of its rec centers and trails.

“This hurts, but we'll do the best we can,” he said.

Taylor, a former Littleton city councilmember and mayor who has served on the South Suburban board on and off since the 1980s, echoed Lucas that the district's pre-pandemic plans are largely out the window.

“Much of our work plan for improvements around the district will likely go by the wayside for this year, and maybe a couple more,” Taylor said. “In the meantime, we need to develop a plan to slowly and safely reopen our facilities. It's going to be tricky.”

Taylor said he will work to make sure the district can maintain as much of its pre-pandemic offerings and facilities as possible, but said there are tough decisions ahead.

“We'll do the best we can to build on the goodwill we've curated with the public,” Taylor said. “They've supported us all these years. This won't be easy. It'll be a different world we're living in for a long time.”

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