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Oquirrh Park center faces big money woes

Faced by a daunting inventory of challenges that must be met in the months ahead, Oquirrh Park Fitness Center officials say they're going to need some help.

Make that a lot of help.The board of trustees of the Salt Lake County Region Service Area, which manages the recreational facility and ice skating oval, agreed Saturday to form a 12-member residents advisory group to help find solutions to a number of pressing financial and organizational problems.

Board Chairman Doral Vance said the advisory group will be drawn from "inside and outside the community . . . and will give us some additional manpower."

Trustees will start forming the advisory group at a special board meeting Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the fitness center tennis office.

Among the tasks the advisory group will be asked to tackle:

- Fund-raising projects to help offset some of the costs of opening the new $10.7 million expansion of the fitness center.

- Planning a grand opening for the new addition, which is scheduled to open its doors May 19.

- Establishing new membership fees and assisting with a drive to boost lagging memberships.

- Evaluating features planned for the new addition that could be omitted or delayed to save money.

- Improving the badly frayed image of the service area.

- Helping collect community input on a variety of issues.

Vance said the committee can be supplemented as need by ad hoc subcommittees organized to work on specific problems and issues.

He also told the board Richard L. Guthrie, the long-time director of the Cottonwood Heights Rec-re-a-tion Center, has agreed to work with the advisory group.

"We do face some challenges, but we're committed to working on them," said Vance, pledging district patrons will get a "quality family facility . . . and in a fiscally responsible way."

People interested in serving on the board are urged to contact the service area at 968-0813.

The decision to form the board came during a marathon seven-hour board meeting Saturday that saw trustees vote 3-0 to fire executive director David Howick.

A search for a replacement will be one of the first major issues facing the new trustees, along with trying to sort out the district's tangled finances and organize its records.

The board also got its first glimpse into the financial condition of the recreation district, receiving six months of unaudited financial statements at once that show the district sustained an operating loss of more than $585,000 from July 1 to Dec. 31.

That loss was offset, however, by a $1.77 million property-tax payment last month that had been delayed because previous service area officials had failed to provide the state with required audits and financial reports.

"Right now, we're in the black," Vance said. But he also noted some difficult financial decisions will have to be made soon.

One decision will be how trustees plan to fund the remaining construction on the new addition and cover operating costs that are projected to exceed current budget.

Vance said the district bonded for $5.5 million and amassed a large financial reserve to cover the construction costs.

But the board must decide whether to use up all the reserves at this point or look at other sources of money to help bankroll the new addition.

"We're in an awkward position right now," Trustee Tony Bueno said. "The project is 85 percent complete, and we've got a lot of money due in the next few months."

It also appears the board will run out of money sometime this summer, forcing trustees to look for other revenue to keep the center open. The district could always issue tax anticipation notes, but that strategy encumbers future tax revenue from next year and tacks on interest costs.

The new trustees started the belt-tightening process Saturday by questioning numerous billings and change orders, and exploring ways to cut costs.