Tuesday, June 7, 2016

UPDATE: City tax hike study paralleled land swap debate

Posted By on Tue, Jun 7, 2016 at 4:38 PM

click to enlarge Protesters of the land swap couldn't overcome the argument that The Broadmoor had the money to take care of Strawberry Fields. Now we learn a study was under way to find more money for parks, even as debate over Strawberry Fields raged. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Protesters of the land swap couldn't overcome the argument that The Broadmoor had the money to take care of Strawberry Fields. Now we learn a study was under way to find more money for parks, even as debate over Strawberry Fields raged.

We just received this response to questions from the city communications office regarding the study:
The study is a phased analysis of public support of the Parks system, now entering its second phase.
We are unsure whether it will result in a ballot measure, as that is dependent on the results as related to public sentiment. The Parks department, with the cooperation of TOPS, the parks board, and a group of stakeholders are analyzing this study. It is part of an ongoing and long-standing effort to identify sustainable funding for parks. I've asked [parks director] Karen Palus to send me the full list of stakeholders. You will see some familiar names.

Also, I did read your blog, and brought it to Mayor's attention and asked about the connection to Strawberry Fields. He responded that "This study had absolutely nothing to do with the land exchange. Rather it is an effort to gauge public support and identify avenues for sustainable funding of our parks system."

The search for sustainable funding for parks has been underway for several years, and is not a new effort, according to Karen Palus.

——————-ORIGINAL POST 4:38 P.M. TUESDAY, JUNE 7, 2016———————-

Mayor John Suthers asked The Trust for Public Land last December to find ways the city could pump up funding for conservation and parks.

The report resulting from that engagement was issued last month.

This is interesting, because during debate over a land swap with The Broadmoor, much was made of the fact the city didn't have enough money to take care of its 189-acre Strawberry Fields open space, so the city might as well turn it over to The Broadmoor.

Now we learn Suthers commissioned the land trust to study how to beef up funding, including a "potential related ballot measure" cited in his letter to the trust dated Dec. 8, 2015. Here's the letter:

click to enlarge screen_shot_2016-06-07_at_3.33.42_pm.png
The city approved the land swap by a vote of 6-3 on May 24, with several supporters saying it was a good deal for the city because The Broadmoor has the resources to care for the land, while the city does not.

In a way, it's surprising the city does not have the resources, considering the 2016 Parks Department budget totals more than $42 million, if trails and open space funding from a special tax approved by voters in 1997 is added, along with grants and capital funding, according to the report. (The TOPS tax expires in 2025, by the way.)

In any event, the 28-page report notes that three-quarters of the conservation measures submitted to voters over the past 20 years in Colorado won approval at the polls. From the report:
Local governments in Colorado enjoy one of the highest success rates for conservation finance ballot measures in the country. Roughly 76 percent of local conservation finance measures (107 of 140) on the ballot in Colorado between 1996 and 2015 were approved. The most frequently used funding mechanisms for land conservation include sales taxes, property taxes, and bonds. 
So it would appear that Suthers might be angling for his next tax increase, having proposed and won approval of a .62 of a percent sales tax last November to fix the city's pothole-riddled roads — with contract provisions that call for them to be warrantied for two years.

In any event, it wasn't widely known that Suthers had requested the land trust study. And the fact that he's scoping out the possibility of seeking a tax hike for parks might have changed the debate surrounding Strawberry Fields, says Councilor Bill Murray, who opposed the swap.

Via email, Murray observes, "What we do know was this was never mentioned during the entire time of the land swap. It would have definitively changed the narrative to long term funding and support of the parks system. We would have had overwhelming support instead of divisive argumentation."

Here's the entire report:

We've asked Suthers' spokesperson for additional information about this study and will update when we hear something.

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