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Youth programs to be homeless

City Council members say there is no money for Emerald City

Avi Salzman

— With the owner of Emerald City willing to drop his offer on the lease to the city to prevent the youth center from closing next year, the City Council is struggling to deal with an offer that may end up being too little too late.

The future of Emerald City and the youth programs it holds may depend on city officials coming up with some creative solutions and the City Council exerting its political will, given the tightness of the 2002 city budget.

For the meantime, the building will be closed for the city and its youth programs as of January when the city’s lease runs out, said Parks and Recreation Director Chris Wilson.

The staff and program costs about $62,000 will still be funded by the city, but where the programs will be held is still up in the air. One option being tossed around is to put the programs in school district buildings. The district is already looking at options to house the programs, said Superintendent Cyndy Simms.

Some young people who use the center, however, were not especially excited about the prospect of spending after-school time in a school.

“I would hate it,” said Grace Stamps, an 8-year-old who spends her time after school at the center building towers and painting, among other activities. “Probably because I have so many memories here.”

Stamps’ mother was equally upset. She pointed to the windows of the center, which are covered in colorful children’s paintings smeared directly onto the glass.

“Look at the windows. They get to paint the windows. You wouldn’t get to do that at another place,” Caroline Stamps said.

“I think children spending the whole day in school have had enough of the industrial experience.”

Emerald City offers after-school and days-off programs as well as substance-free parties at the Dock and the Underground for middle school and high school students and birthday parties.

“It gives us something to do,” said Karly Bufkin, a 12-year-old who goes to the Dock.

Partners in Routt County, which supports local youths through a mentor program, also has its offices in the building.

Wilson said he had attempted to find other places in the budget where he could make cuts instead of dropping Emerald City but was unable to do so.

“I have right now in my budget $0 for a facility,” Wilson said.

The City Council, likewise, was unwilling to chop elsewhere or go into reserves to fund the facility.

The council has the final word on budget cuts.

“I’m looking for more things to cut rather than put back in,” said Councilman Paul Strong, who added that he could not speak for the entire council on the issue.

Strong also said it was not the council’s business to go line by line through the budget.

Councilman Bud Romberg said he thinks it would be a very tough squeeze to get any more out of this budget and said it would be difficult to put an item back in after cutting so much.

Council President Pro Tem Kathy Connell said she thinks the council needs to revisit the Emerald City issue because of its importance to the community but did not say that the item would necessarily be put back into the budget.

The city’s dilemma came about because the owner of the building offered a lease renewal for about three times what the city had been paying, Wilson said.

The city currently pays $30,000 to rent out the 4,000-square-foot facility on 11th Street, a cost substantially under market value, Wilson said.

As of January 2002, however, the city would have had to pay $84,000 based on the owner’s initial offer, Wilson said.

Although the city was able to negotiate that number down to $56,000, it still could not fund the center for 2002 based on the other cuts it has to make, Wilson said.

Stephen Carogol, the owner of the building through a holding company, said this week that he is willing to drop the rent from the original increase he had asked for this year.

He said he could go down to about $40,000, though he said that would still be a major financial loss for him.

“It’s definitely a charity transaction,” Carogol said.

But, Wilson warned, with the city budget already through its first reading and no slack to tighten up on this budget, chances of saving the facility are slim regardless of the price tag.

City Council members expressed hope that city staff could find a new facility to house the programs but were reticent to discuss revisiting the budget after cutting an additional $1.4 million last week.

The closure of Emerald City, barring a major donation, is a done deal, council members suggested.


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