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Parks seek change to TOPS fund use
For the third time since 2009, Colorado Springs parks officials plan to ask voters to change the Trails, Open Space and Parks tax, allowing the city to spend more on park maintenance and renovations.
The measure would not raise the one-tenth of a percent sales tax, or a penny on every $10 purchase in the city. Instead, officials want to change the wording of the TOPS ordinance, which has strict limits on how the money is spent.
“It’s not about additional funding. It’s about more flexibility, particularly in maintenance and renovation,” TOPS program head Chris Lieber said.
The tax was sold to voters in 1997 as a way to preserve land that might otherwise be lost to development. To appease skeptics who feared it would be used to fund city operations, administration was capped at 3 percent of the revenue and maintenance at 6 percent. TOPS money has been used to buy 6,178 acres of open space and build 32 parks and 46 miles of urban trails.
But the city’s budget crisis of recent years led to deep cuts in parks funding, and irrigation and maintenance suffered. Trash was uncollected and park bathrooms were locked.
The ballot measure would ask voters to allow the parks acquisition portion of TOPS revenue, 20 percent of the total, to be used for maintenance as well as land acquisition.
Voters have given mixed messages in prior attempts to change how TOPS money is spent.
In 2009, a measure to allow the maintenance portion to increase for 5 years was narrowly rejected. The following year, after seeing the impact budget cuts were having on the parks, voters approved a 2-year proposal to increase the amount allowed to be used on maintenance from 6 percent to 15 percent.
That sunsets at the end of this year, and officials say the funding problems remain. A Parks Solutions team appointed by Mayor Steve Bach came up with the ballot measure. The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board approved it Thursday.
“If you can’t maintain what you have, then what’s the point of buying more,” board member Charles Castle said.
Added board member John Maynard, “We’re trying to improve on a situation and provide some more flexibility for our parks funding and I think that’s a good thing and I support it.”
The key difference from earlier efforts is the 6 percent maintenance budget would stay the same.
The 20 percent that goes into park acquisition could be used for acquisition, development, renovation and maintenance of any park.
The ballot language is being written by the city attorney’s office. A final draft is expected by Jan. 7.