Westling wrestling with County Parks cuts

       Talking at a Skyway Associa-tion meeting Jan. 28, El Paso County Parks Division Interim Manager Jerry Westling described what he hopes to accomplish this year with reduced resources.
       Just his position title reflects one key change. The county, which once had 16 departments, has now been reorganized into four, with the one-time “Parks Department” now a division within the Public Services Department and former Parks Director Tim Wolken as its director.
       A 22-year County Parks employee, Westling is working with a budget that's about half of 2008's and a full-time staff that's 32 percent less. Still, his schedule leaves room for some system improvements, including at Bear Creek Park, where new trail connections and a continuation of a wildland fire mitigation effort are planned.
       At the Bear Creek Nature Center, which lost 50 percent of its budget, Westling said “we're asking the docents to do more.”
       Like many government agencies, the county has been hurt by the economy. In addition, the county mill levy is one of the lowest in the state.
       Westling said he felt grateful to have a budget of $570,000 after seeing the Sheriff's Office get cut by $1 million for '09. He thanked the Skyway Association members for their support of Parks. The public support in general helped preserve some of the Parks funding this year, he said Still, if the economy worsens, “we may get more cuts,” he cautioned.
       Last year, county commissioners had considered the possibility of selling parks to balance the budget, but Westling doesn't think that will happen. “I can't speak for the county commissioners, but my opinion is that they don't want to sell any parks,” he told the association.

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