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Denver budget cuts due to migrant crisis face more scrutiny as recreation centers reduce hours

Joe Rubino, The Denver Post on

Published in News & Features

Budget cuts aimed at offsetting the city’s spending on shelter, food, bus tickets and other support for new-arriving migrants hit Denver’s 30 recreation centers this week in the form of slimmed-down hours.

Those cuts could be harbingers of more painful budget-slashing to come as the city grapples with how to support newcomers in the wake of a federal border deal — and the prospect of financial support to cities — falling apart.

The most visible impact so far came Tuesday as several rec centers moved their opening times later, curtailing or eliminating early morning hours. At the Athmar Recreation Center in southwest Denver, that meant opening at 7 a.m. Tuesday instead of 6 a.m. — though some other centers now don’t open until 9 a.m.

The slightly later start wasn’t a major inconvenience for nearby Ruby Hill resident Sonia Herrera, who wrapped up a visit to the Athmar center just after 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. Her husband is bummed, though. He likes to get in an early workout before the center gets busy and his workday begins, she said.

A more painful change will come on Sunday when the center will be closed entirely instead of offering afternoon hours. Sundays are “family days,” Herrera said. She and her husband often take turns playing basketball or swimming with their 9-year-old son while the other works out.

With their discounted neighborhood membership, it’s an affordable outlet for weekend fun and activity.

 

“Money is tight, so it was nice to have a place to just have access,” Herrera said.

She is not holding the reduced hours against migrants, many of whom are fleeing political and economic strife in Venezuela. Herrera’s parents immigrated from Mexico and were greeted with opportunities here in the U.S., she said.

“I am grateful they are being helped,” she said of the migrants. “I wish I could do more for them.”

Reduced rec center hours have been bundled with rolling, week-long closures of four of the city’s five Denver Motor Vehicle offices, forthcoming cuts to spring parks and rec programs, and other small changes to DMV and parks services as part of a budget-reduction package aimed at saving the city $5 million, Mayor Mike Johnston announced earlier this month.

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