Friday, December 9, 2016

Tax measures coming to a ballot near you

Posted By on Fri, Dec 9, 2016 at 10:48 AM

click to enlarge Camp Creek erosion shows a need for stormwater control. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy City of Colorado Springs
  • Camp Creek erosion shows a need for stormwater control.
This week, we reported that Mayor John Suthers plans to ask City Council to refer a measure to voters in April that would allow the city to keep any excess revenue from this year and next. In other words, the revenue cap, imposed by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, would be lifted for those two years.

Millions of dollars in extra money are expected to be collected above the TABOR cap, Suthers says.

Suthers wants the money to go to stormwater needs.

Meantime, the Parks Department is looking into a possible sales tax dedicated to parks. The city already has the Trails, Open space and Parks tax that's been in place for 20 years. But apparently it's not enough.

(FYI: In 2013, voters approved a measure, proposed by then-Mayor Steve Bach's Parks Solutions Team, that allowed the city to spend all of the 20 percent of the TOPS tax dedicated to parks, for parks maintenance. The rest of the tax money is split between trails and open space. The Trails and Open Space Coalition opposed the measure, worrying the city would simply rely on the TOPS money with no pledge of maintenance of effort.)

The total sales tax for purchases within the city limits is 8.25 percent, so one might wonder how high can we go before shoppers simply go elsewhere or buy everything online.

Here's how the tax breaks down: 3.12 percent for the city; 2.9 percent for the state; 1.23 percent for El Paso County, and 1 percent for the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority.

In any event, we asked Parks Director Karen Palus about this tax effort, and here's what she told us, via email:
The Trust for Public Land’s (TPL) Conservation Finance Division is providing technical assistance to the City and County to look at the feasibility of a conservation measure for our community. There has been a large group of community stakeholders working with TPL on this initiative. These stakeholders have worked with TPL to fund a public opinion survey to test a couple of parks questions related to additional funding. This community initiative is in part due to the information expressed by the community in our Park System Master Plan. As you may recall the analysis that was completed regarding parks spending per capita showed that our City compared to other communities our size was significantly underfunded and understaffed. The City of Colorado Springs is around $44.00 per person and the average of other communities is around $96.00 per person as shown in the Park System Master Plan report completed in 2014. The group of community stakeholders has been discussing sustainable funding for parks for some time with a recent emphasis that would help bring our community closer to the average. No decisions have been made as the group and TPL are still gathering information.

The TOPS measure that was passed in 2014 allowed the same amount of funding to be open to all Parks. This did not increase the funding for maintenance it just expanded the number of facilities where those funds could be spent. The TOPS Parks Category raises an estimated $1.4 million. This funding is now available for ALL parks(over 200 facilities) and can be used for a variety of things such as acquisition, development, construction, maintenance, repair and renovation.
So while the April 4 election will decide a majority of City Council with six of nine seats up for grabs, it also is expected to pose two tax questions — both of which will ask for more money.

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