He’s one of the good guys of government. It’s popular to bash bureaucrats. Don’t bash Butcher.
In fact, next time you are riding one of Colorado Springs‘ many trails, or hiking open space, or just watching your kids play in a neighborhood park, take a sip from your CamelBak and toast Paul.
From 1994 until he retired April 30, he directed the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department.
During that time, he presided over the largest expansion of parks, trails and open space since Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer was donating land up until his death in March 1909.
Butcher benefited from passage in 1997 of a one-tenth of a percent sales tax to pay for acquisition, construction and maintenance of Trails, Open Space and Parks, or TOPS, which generates about $6 million a year.
The numbers are impressive: 5,000 acres of open space acquired; 100 miles of trails built; 48 neighborhood parks added to the inventory; dog parks; skate parks; swimming facilities; spray grounds; countless ballfields, sports courts, playgrounds and picnic areas.
Paul decided to retire after watching his department gutted by severe budget cuts.
In 2007, his agency had 225 employees and a budget of $19.9 million. Today, it has 140 employees and a budget of just $6 million general fund dollars. It generates about half that amount.
And the future looks grim.
“If we stay on the course we’re on, there’s a complete inability to maintain the park system to the level we did five years ago,” Butcher said. “It would be foolhardy to build any more parks if the city is required to maintain them.”
That’s because irrigation systems, grass, playgrounds are expensive. So are the people needed to mow them, empty trash cans and fix sprinklers and repair vandalism.
“It was an opportune time to retire,” he said, explaining he will be maximizing his time with his wife, Paula, their six kids and four grandkids.
It can’t get much worse. Sure, the city could cut the remaining funds. But it would be foolish. Only about 12 people on staff are paid from the city general fund. The agency is doing the bare minimum at this point.
Cutting more would jeopardize the $4 million it receives in lottery funds, which can only be used for parks. They can’t pay for someone to attend City Council meetings. Or for electricity. Or the water bill in the administration building.
And there’s little to be gained, he said, from selling park property. Most parks have clauses in their deeds requiring them to remain parks or revert to the previous owners.
“It would be very difficult to sell off parts of the parks system,” he said.
So he is off to pursue his volunteer work, family life, daily runs with his lab, Shadow, and relax a bit. He considers the city’s acquisition in 2003 of the 789 Red Rock Canyon Open Space a highlight of his career.
Read a 2007 story I wrote at this link. Here’s a map of the park.
Here’s a look at the canyon in a 2004 photo by The Gazette’s Bryan Oller: