Candidate Q&A: ERBM Recreation & Park District | Rio Blanco Herald Instances

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MEEKER | Six candidates are running for three seats on ERBM Recreation & Park District’s board this election cycle. As an in-person forum was not possible due to scheduling conflicts, the HT provided an online survey for readers to submit questions and have included those here, as well.
Candidate responses are in no particular order below, laid out as space allows.

WHAT WE ASKED:

  1. What do we need to know about you? (brief bio, board experience, potential conflicts of interest … e.g. current or past employment of self or family members, business connections, legal issues with the district, etc.)
  2. In your opinion, is the district moving in the right direction or the wrong direction for the Meeker community and why?
  3. What are the 3 biggest concerns you have for the district and what ideas would you bring to the board to address those concerns?
  4. To whom is the board accountable? 

WHAT YOU ASKED:

**These questions were submitted anonymously through an online survey in lieu of an in-person forum.

  1. What is the priority for the Meeker trail system in regard to future maintenance and expansion?
  2. With a budget crisis looming, do you support reducing the number of department heads and restricting salary increases?

VICKY EDWARDS

1) I’m a Meeker native and graduated from MHS and Mesa University. My parents, Bob and Laurette Sikes, owned the Night Owl for many years, now known as Ol Crow’s. After college my husband and I moved to Texas. I worked in banking while continuing to pursue my legal education, obtaining my degree as a Certified Paralegal. In the 90’s I became a VP of a large bank in Texas. After several years, we moved to Northwest Arkansas where I became VP of Arkansas National Bank. Eventually, I was able to utilize my degree as a paralegal and joined my husband at his law office. After we raised our two children, we made the decision to semi-retire in Meeker. I was blessed to become the Paralegal to the Rio Blanco County Attorney. My husband, Jay, is a retired lawyer. He serves as the Meeker Town Judge and is a Rec Coordinator for the Rec Center, teaching karate and other sports. I enjoy helping him with many of his activities as a Rec Center Volunteer.

2) I believe previous Boards have moved in the directions they deemed best for the circumstances presented to them. I think it will be imperative to focus on the viability of the ERBM which must include projections and strategies to address long term revenue declines. The state and the federal government have implemented policies and regulations that will continue to limit monies flowing into RBC. I have witnessed firsthand strategic planning that has taken place at a County level to prepare for decreased revenues, which can be implemented immediately to help ensure the rec center will be around for future generations.

3) I’m concerned that due to the current economic climate, youth and community activities are in danger of being eliminated. My goal is to prevent ERBM from being nothing more than a building with exercise equipment and a pool. In order to prevent this from happening I believe the district must: a) work to increase revenue brought in by programming and community events; b) greatly reduce, and/or eliminate monies spent whereby the district does not realize a direct return on investment; c) reduce the number of management personnel and/or increase and combine manager’s duties; d) freeze or postpone capital expenditures and projects that aren’t necessary for the daily operation of the recreation center.

4) This Board is accountable to the taxpayers of the ERBM Special District, community partners, Rec Center employees and volunteers, and most importantly the citizens, parents and youth who utilize the services and programs offered by ERBM.

5) The focus should be on maintenance of the existing trail system rather than expansion at this time.

6) While it is imperative to have crucial leadership and management roles filled by fairly compensated individuals, it will be imperative that the incoming Board review existing staffing models and job descriptions to provide staff with the direction to best meet the challenges of a decreased budget for future years.

TYLER FRYE

  1. A new transplant to Meeker, Colorado, I am proud to call this amazing gateway to outdoor recreation home. My family loves to camp, ride bikes, and make the most of Meeker’s robust park and recreational opportunities. I have recently been asked to help revitalize and steer the local Mountain Bike club (MAMBA) as well as coordinate between different entities on new single-track trail building and maintenance. I have experience founding and managing non-profit entities such as acting as President of the Bookcliff Home Brew Club and developing user-centric events and fundraising opportunities. I have experience writing and managing Grants while finding diverse funding options for non-profit groups I have participated in.
  2. I believe the Recreation District provides essential outdoor and indoor opportunities to work out, play, and exercise. I think the Recreation Department has done an amazing job providing recreational resources to our community. However, a looming budget shortage will require us to investigate new resource management options and explore unique fundraising opportunities to not just sustain our current operational costs but expand new recreational activities.
  3. My three biggest concerns for the recreation district’s future are fiscal responsibility, maintaining the current level of operational opportunities and generating recreational activities that will drive tourism and support local businesses. As a board member, I will investigate next-generation energy cost-saving technologies such as geothermal and solar. I will work diligently to promote more tourism-attracting activities that will support local businesses and bring much-needed tax revenue. I will also work with current staff members, members of the community, and visitors to our community to make sure our Rec District is providing and implementing meaningful activities that support the wellness of our communities health and interest.
  4. As a board member, I will make sure we are accountable to the public, our employees, and local business. I want public and Rec employee feedback to be a major driver of the board’s actions and decisions. Our job is to facilitate reasonable management plans and smart action steps to continue the long-term survival of the Recreation District while keeping the Recreation programs in line with community needs. These factors are dependent on community feedback who we as the board represent diligently.
  5. The Meeker trail system represents a unique outdoor recreation opportunity for hikers, bikers, and walkers. Our town has a large population of mountain bike enthusiasts and hikers, which use the trails daily when weather permits. The trails also offer an expanding tourism market in Western Colorado that drives millions of dollars for local businesses. Meeker’s hunting, outdoor, and fishing-focused economy is primed to benefit from tapping other growing tourism markets. By expanding out single track trails we create a new revenue stream and attraction for visitors to our beautiful region.
  6. The staff of the recreation department represents highly talented individuals that are already stretched thin and working hard to keep so many functions and activities afloat. I think we should consider other cost cutting avenues and fund-generating options before we start cutting jobs and benefits to our hard working staff and community members.

AARON GRIMES

  1. My wife, Sarah, and I moved to Meeker in 2006 and call this town our home along with our daughter Skylar and son Rylan. My career is based in managing public lands recreation programs. I’ve worked for the BLM in Meeker managing their recreation program for several years and about four years ago accepted the Recreation Manager position with the Forest Service on the Blanco Ranger District. My family and I have experienced the recreation and park district in a variety of ways making it one of the most important aspects to our quality of life. I’m either in their gym or on their trails most days year-round. I’ve volunteer coached many seasons, my family enjoys numerous programs and parks each year, and I’ve partnered with the district as well.
  2. I believe the district continues to move in the right direction. The employees continue to meet a high standard by providing outstanding communities amenities, great service and programing, and well-maintained facilities.
  3. I think some of the biggest concerns the district is currently facing are tied together. These include trying to develop a balanced budget over the next few years, maintaining current levels of programing, and maintaining current parks and facilities. This is a new challenge for the district and it’s important for the community to be a part of this conversation.
  4. The board is accountable to the district’s citizens/taxpayers who elect them and fund the district. The board is responsible for all aspects of the district’s administration, operations, finances, and policies. I believe the board is also accountable to the district employees by, through policy and direction, setting them up for success, developing a positive work environment, and making strategic decisions they can effectively execute.
  5. The Meeker Trails have become an important part of community wellness over the past several years in a variety of ways. The district’s parks that are currently part of the trails system, mainly Jensen Memorial Park, are mostly built-out and well developed. I think it’s an important district priority to maintain those investments. I also think the district should continue to partner on trail expansion on non-district lands, but only in a fiscally responsible manner.
  6. If I were to become a new incoming board member, I would not support reducing the number of department heads. With budget issues in mind, I think it’s the board’s responsibility to examine funding tied to personnel costs. It seems likely that the future board will be analyzing the existing organizational charts, employee benefits, attrition/retirements, duties, and overall personnel costs. These employees are the heart and soul of the district that directly deliver outstanding benefits, services, and opportunities to our community. My priority is to support them the best a board member can.

KIM KENDALL

  1. I am humbled and excited to be running for election to the ERBM Recreation and Park District Board of Directors. I believe I can help the ERBM Recreation and Park District meet the needs of our community through direct community input and dedication to beneficial programming. I would like to represent the interests of the citizens of Meeker, and believe I am in a great place to do so. Having worked with the county, the high school and the recreation district for the past 24 years, I have extensive experience interacting directly with our community members. I feel that over those years I have cultivated an open and approachable mindset, and believe that many community members feel comfortable communicating their interests and desires for the future of the recreation district with me.
  2. I feel like the district is moving in the right direction when it comes to trying to meet the needs of our community. I have witnessed the process used to keep programs with more than 5 in attendance running smoothly. I would question the capital projects in the last 6 years, when spending should have been minimized.
  3. I would aim to ensure responsible spending by the recreation district and, most importantly, accountability to the people of this community. A direct link to those who are most impacted by the offerings and programs of the ERBM Recreation and Park District would benefit all.

Quality programming is another focus of mine. I feel blessed that my children were able to benefit from the various programs the recreation district has to offer and I’m further honored to have worked for this district and witnessed the impact the programs have on both our youth and adults. This may arguably be the aspect of the recreation district that benefits our community the most, by bringing people together, giving our children a safe place to learn and grow, and encouraging connections that will last beyond a weeks-long program. To this point, I think it is most important that quality programs continue at the ERBM Recreation and Park District, and will push to ensure the appropriate funding and staffing is available to do so.

  1. The board is accountable to the constituents of the community. A board member is also a partner to the executive director of the organization. As a board member you have a legal commitment and responsibility to the organization therefore you must take financial and legal oversight seriously.
  2. I have utilized the Meeker trails a little since its completion in 2012. While it is an asset to the community, I fear that future maintenance will come at a cost. I do not put an expansion to the trails as a top priority at a time when we should be preserving cash.
  3. Organizations implement reductions in force to preserve cash and/or balance a budget. So first, consider whether there are other, less drastic, ways to do so. This should be a last resort after every other alternative is considered up front. Management and above are high in numbers and I would not oppose a reduction or salary freeze as a last resort. At ERBM, it is very important to preserve the hourly wage employees and their pay increases. I would do my best to work through this process along with a committed executive director and board of directors.

We must maintain and value our way of life in Meeker, where community means a lot more than just a place to live. I think the ERBM Recreation and Park District is where many find that “more”, and I want to ensure it continues to be a benefactor to that way of life by listening to our people and embracing our valuable programs.

ERIC KNEZ

  1. I am a native of Colorado and have called Meeker my home now for 4 years after taking a career advancement at Deserado Mine. I have been a coal miner for 32 years and previously worked at 20-Mile Mine. The last 5 years at the 20-Mile Mine I was responsible for an annual figure budget within my department. I am currently the maintenance director of Deserado Mine where I am responsible for maintenance over the diesel shop as well as mine maintenance planning. I also assist the maintenance superintendent with duties and budget.
  2. I believe the District responds to the varying community needs. The District provides a great service for the local community as well as neighboring towns. The District, along with BLM, maintains both PDJ and the trail system, which is a great way for enthusiasts to enjoy the outdoors with hiking and biking and brings others to our community as well. The District provides a variety of programs, activities and special events, as highlighted in the Line-Up, which I believe brings our community together. However, I believe there may be alternatives (ideas, partnerships, volunteers) to maintain and improve our parks.
  3. With the rising costs of inflation, naturally the District cannot be stagnate and I feel needs to offset the burden by raising the cost of program and membership fees, keeping in mind the District offers scholarships and reduced rates for programs.
    In order to retain full time positions the District needs to be the “employer of choice”. Employees are the biggest asset with any business. The District needs to continue to offer comparative pay and benefits for employee retention.
    Seeking alternative financial means for non-scheduled Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) and educating the community regarding decisions made around non-scheduled CIP is necessary.
  4. The board is accountable to the entire community. They are responsible to make good sound decisions and to be fiscally responsible to our tax payers.
  5. Annually, the District promotes and contributes to National Public Lands Day, improving/building new trails. Because of our proximity between Steamboat and Fruita (mountain biking communities), work with MAMBA and other organizations to design trail events around existing Meeker activities. I believe maintaining and improving the trails take equal precedence to maintaining the rec center infrastructure, continuing to offer premier programs, activities, special events, and maintaining parks.
  6. I believe that salaries need to be monitored and adjustments made accordingly that are reflected in a wage compensation plan. There are always ways to job share/cross train. The question, in my mind, is difficult to answer as “department head” is not clearly defined. Currently there is an Executive Director, Human Resource Administrator, and 3 managers overseeing 5 divisions. In a recent board meeting that I attended, the board voted that any full-time employee position that leaves the District must be approved by the board before being replaced. I stand by that decision.

JOHN STRATE (incumbent)

  1. I am currently a teacher at Meeker High School, as well as a real estate agent. I was born and raised in Meeker. I earned my bachelor’s degree from Western State College in Gunnison and my master’s degree from Colorado Mesa University. I taught in Canon City, Colorado before moving back to Meeker. I have been teaching for 19 years in Meeker. My wife of 23 years is also a teacher. Both of my boys grew up in Meeker as well. My oldest son Chrisotpher is attending Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah, and my youngest son Carter is attending Colorado School of Mines in Golden. I am nearing the end of my first term on the board. Previous board experience includes 8 years as a trustee for the Town of Meeker. I was employed by the district many years ago as a lifeguard when I was in high school. I have no conflict of interests between my professional life and my service on the board.
  2. In my opinion the district is moving in the right direction for the Meeker Community. In spite of reduced revenues the district is an active member of the community. We have a state of the art recreational center, thanks to the voters and taxpayers of Rio Blanco County. We are fulfilling our responsibility to maintain this facility and ensure it continues to meet the needs of users. We offer programming for a variety of age groups and interests, and have partnered with the Town of Meeker to make our parks a top tier attraction for both residents and visitors. Although budget restrictions have and will continue to limit what we can do and have led to our fiscal contributions decreasing, we continue to partner with other entities to take Meeker in a direction we can all be proud of.
  3. 1) Revenues-It is well known that the Special Districts in our community are losing revenue due to a decrease in fossil fuel activity in the area.
    2) Long term financial viability-Although our reserves remain strong, they won’t hold out forever. I would like to make sure that the district can continue to meet the needs of taxpayers for many years to come.
    3) Deciding on the appropriate financial approach-The board has some decisions to make. Do we want to continue spending our reserves? If so, at what rate? Should we stop spending reserves all together?
    My approach to all three of these very similar concerns is that we need to find balance.
  4. The board is accountable to the voters.
  5. The trail system is at a point at which the majority of the maintenance should be completed by the public. The district has partnered with the BLM and public on Public Lands Day to complete trail work. This should certainly continue. Before Covid hit The Meeker Area Mountain Bike Association (MAMBA) was also doing some work on the trails. This included weed spraying and general trail maintenance. These projects need to continue. The section of the trails that is on ERBM property should continue to be maintained by the district.

As far as future expansion is concerned, I believe the district can be an active partner in going after grant funds and acting as a fiduciary agent if necessary, but I would be against contributing funds to a trail expansion until revenues change.

  1. I support reducing the number of employees at every level as shown by the recent hiring freeze the board approved. Department heads should not be exempt from this. I believe this needs to be done through attrition. With the amount of money we have in reserves currently I feel like a reduction in staff that is forced would be premature. I would also like to point out that in the last four years our personnel budget has basically stayed the same. Considering the annual increases in benefits, both health insurance and PERA, this is no small feat. We have also given performance based raises the last four years. The district has cut back considerably through attrition to this point, and will continue to do so. The important thing for the public to understand is that at some point there will be noticeable change to programs and services offered by the district. It is not fair to the employees of the district to expect them to keep doing more with less.

In regards to a salary freeze, this is a tough question. With inflation at the highest point it has been in 40 years, a salary freeze equates to a cut in pay for staff. While I understand our 10 year budget projection looks dire at current spending levels, I also choose to be an optimist. I think our current revenue situation has the potential to change. At this point I can not support a salary freeze for staff. I recognize that this is potentially on the table for the future, but right now is too early.

Special to the Herald Times