by Larry Patrick
WALSENBURG- Last week the Walsenburg City Council voted 6-3 to close Walsenburg Wild Waters in summer 2010. Operating Wild Waters has led to financial losses during the last two years; the vote for closure in 2010 was an attempt to avoid financial losses at a time when the city is facing a budget deficit.
At a special meeting on Monday night, April 26, City Council voted 7-2 to reverse their earlier decision and open the water park in 2010. Stipulations in the GoCo grant require the city to operate the park for 25 years and it was argued that there could be serious repercussions if Walsenburg did not meet this obligation to GoCo, repercussions which could impact the county’s reputation among granting agencies and impact grant applications for other projects in Huerfano County.
Gaye Davis, who has worked for the RE-1 school system as a grant writer for the past eight years, went to the Walsenburg city administration last week after reading that the council voted to keep the WWW closed for 2010. She explained that the action could have a negative impact on future grantwriting efforts for Huerfano County.
The initial vote for closure in 2010 was contingent on asking the various grant funding sources if the city could keep the water park closed this season and simply extend the 25-year operating agreement an additional year by reopening in 2011. City staff had not yet contacted the grant agencies about the matter before the April 26 meeting. Davis expressed the opinion that even calling the grant providers might have a serious ripple affect on other groups seeking grants. So city staff contacted Mayor Bruce Quintana who set up Monday’s special meeting to reconsider the matter.
Councilpersons Jim Moore and Erin Jerant argued that there was no basis for Davis’ claims because the city staff had not contacted the grant agencies, as they were supposed to do, to see if there really would be a problem. Arguments also dealt with the financial problems of the city and previous losses of revenue from operating the water park. The city of Walsenburg is currently 1.3 million dollars in the hole.
Martie Henderson and Bill Moran, business owners in the city, spoke in favor of opening Walsenburg Wild Waters this year because it brings people to town and helps businesses. Councilman Craig Lessar asked Walsenburg City Treasurer, Jacque Sikes, if they could afford to lose $15,000-$20,000 on the water park and survive their financial problems. Sikes answered by saying she has not seen a re-evaluation of the city budget showing the impact of recent layoffs. She felt the city would have to make spending concessions elsewhere in their budget to handle any losses from the water park.
After much discussion, Mayor pro-tem, James England, made a motion to open WWW for 2010 under a limited four day per week schedule, Thursday through Sunday. The hope is that as many people will flock to the water park in four days as they would have in seven. The roll call vote brought long pauses from Councilmen Nick Vigil and Craig Lessar, but both voted to open the water park after giving negative votes last week. Councilpersons Silvana Lind and Rick Jennings also changed their votes in favor of opening the water park. Councilpersons Moore and Jerant felt it was too much of a financial risk and voted against opening the water park this year.
It is not known if the WWW will open on Memorial Day weekend, as in past years. There could be a shortened season. Mayor Bruce Quintana said that opening the water park will keep kids off the streets and serve the community. He also said “It makes the city look vibrant.”