A group tagged Cheyenne Central is soliciting funds for a "vote no" campaign against the Trails, Open Space and Parks measure on the Nov. 2 ballot. The measure, 2C, would double the TOPS tax from .01 of a percent to .02 of a percent — increasing it from 1 cent on a $10 purchase to 2 cents.
The measure would reduce the percentage allocation to open space and allot 30 percent to maintenance of open space, trails and parks and administration.
"If you don't want giant, blue advertisements bolted into our precious parklands, a repeat of Strawberry Fields, or spending $330,000 on a self-cleaning bathroom and concreting our parks making them commercial plazas, please consider donating so we can purchase materials to get the word out as to why 2C is fundamentally flawed," a recent email from Cheyenne Central said.
The "giant, blue advertisements" is a reference to a large metal picture frame installed in 2017 at Garden of the Gods at the behest of the Olympic City USA Taskforce, of which the mayor's wife, Janet, was a member. It was later removed after a public outcry. It's unclear how the picture frame debacle pertains to the TOPS tax.
The self-cleaning bathrooms were installed at Bancroft Park, much of which was paved over to create a marketing space, which some residents disliked.
The "vote yes" campaign had raised $147,000 as of the Oct. 1 campaign finance reports. The campaign has sent out at least one mailer to voters, saying, "2C will provide critical funding to acquire and preserve new open space projects, fund and maintain our beautiful parks and world renowned trails."
The city conducted an analysis of parks needs and found about $270 million in backlogged projects with not enough funding to cover it. Thus, the city's Parks Department wants more of the TOPS money to go toward developing parks, rather than buying open space. The city has not conducted a similar analysis of what open space acquisitions are needed and at what cost.
From the "vote no" email: "We also have a team of park advocates with a long history and deep knowledge and involvement in the creation and protection of Open Space.... In truth, that was a team of people, like most of these endeavors are, working diligently to get that passed. In fact, that's precisely why we have taken a position against TOPS III, 2C. We care deeply about our parks and find this to be a very disturbing approach to address park funding. We shouldn't have to rob Peter to pay Paul. We should keep the bar high in terms of our Open Space acquisition and protection as we all know from the infamous Strawberry Fields loss, once you lose it, it's gone forever."
Strawberry Fields is a 189-acre open space in North Cheyenne Cañon the city traded to The Broadmoor for a collection of mountainous lands and trail segments in 2016. A group of citizens opposed to the trade, and went to court but lost.
It's unclear who is behind the Cheyenne Central committee, other than Donna Strom, who's quoted in the email promotion. Strom was among those who opposed the Strawberry Fields land swap.
City Council President Pro Tem Richard Skorman, part of the original TOPS effort in the 1990s, argued that increasing the tax will actually provide more money for open space, increasing the total collected from $11 million to $22 million. Since the measure also exempts the tax from Taxpayer's Bill of Rights revenue caps, that amount is likely to grow significantly during the TOPS tax's life, he notes.
"This would make it bigger in the future," he says by phone.
"What's been promised is an open space master plan," he adds. "If TOPS passes, we're really going to assess open space, because the original was drafted in 1994" and hasn't been updated since.
"It's vital that we really look at what's out there [that] we weren't thinking about," he says.
He says the city didn't want to wait for such a study before extending TOPS and changing the allocations because it's unknown what it might compete with at some future election, and in the meantime, the city's parks maintenance and development gets stalled.
So far, Cheyenne Central hasn't filed a campaign finance report. The city's rules require committees to file a Report of Contributions and Expenditures once the committee receives campaign contributions of more than $200 or spends more than $200 during the election cycle. The next filing deadline is Oct. 29.