Emerald City supported

City Council members commit to finding money to keep youth center open

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— All seven members of the Steamboat Springs City Council said Wednesday they will make sure Emerald City stays open, regardless of whether community grants come in.

By whatever means necessary, including digging into city funds, the city will find a way to pay the lease on the Emerald City building at least through August as long as the landlord keeps the new lease at his current offer, every council member said. Emerald City is a city-run youth center on 11th Street where after-school and teen programs are held.

Council President Pro-Tem Paul Strong admitted his stance was a change of heart from an earlier position he took opposing funding the lease on the youth center.

"I've come 180 degrees on this. This is something we need to fund," he said. "We'll do whatever we need to do to keep it open through August."

Other council members, who said Tuesday night they supported funding the facility on a month-to-month basis through grants and possibly reallocating city resources but committed no new money toward it, said Wednesday they would not let the facility close.

The city initially decided not to fund the center in 2002 because of a nearly 300-percent increase in the lease. When the landlord agreed to cut the rate in half, the city still would not commit to funding the site.

After cutting the lease from the 2002 budget, the city solicited local groups to help raise the money for the lease. The city was also approached by individuals and groups who wanted to help out, city officials said.

At this point, the city has received $15,200 in pledges, about $13,000 short of what is needed to keep the facility open for the next eight months, said City Manager Paul Hughes. Hughes said the city might be able to come up with some of that money in its parks and recreation budget by reallocating resources, though neither he nor council members could say Wednesday specifically where the money would come from. Parks and Recreation Director Chris Wilson has said there is no money in his budget to fund the building.

Hughes said he is pretty sure the city can fund the building through at least April with the pledges it has now and possibly some city funds. Hughes said he will update the council regularly on the status of funding for the building.

The Rotary Club, Routt County United Way and the Yampa Valley Community Foundation will all consider grants for the center in upcoming weeks, Wilson said.

But grants or no grants, reallocations or no reallocations, Emerald City is safe, council members said.

"We will find the money because it is a priority our community has stated," said City Council President Kathy Connell.

"If we have to use our raises to fund that then we will."

Connell said the City Council did not specifically say it would fund the center at its Tuesday meeting, but she has little doubt it will now.

The city will still cut seasonal employees at Emerald City and will not staff weekend parties at the facility as heavily. The city's total budget cut for Emerald City amounts to $83,575.

One council member criticized the Rotary Club for its stance Tuesday night, when the club asked the city to put up $30,000 for the facility in return for Rotary coming up with the rest of the money.

"I was disappointed in (Rotary President) Mike Roberts because it was a political approach," said Councilwoman Nancy Kramer.

Kramer said the private sector needs to look harder at funding these sorts of programs in the future in partnerships with the city.

Roberts said the issue was political before Rotary became involved.

"I'd say it's a political issue. I'd say we intentionally responded politically," he said.

Roberts, who was happy to hear Wednesday that the city would make sure the facility stays open, said he thinks the city needs to step up to the plate on issues like this one. Just saying they like youth programs is not enough, he said.

"This community is a generous community," he said. "I think it would be able to come up with the money for this facility. "But I just think it's inappropriate for the city to use that as its first resort. It should be the last resort."

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