Cover, money, faucet, cash, fund, flow, finance

From the mundane to the critical, we make choices every day. And come Nov. 2, many reading this will have the opportunity to make some choices of their own, for Election Day is right around the corner.

Yes, these are the elections that make up the hard work of democracy. Municipal elections often involve complex topics requiring research and introspection. Local school board elections aren’t covered by CNN or Fox News. But these topics present a real opportunity to make your voice heard. Unlike national elections, a single vote really can make a difference in these hometown and statewide contests.

This Election Day, look for a mayoral contest in Manitou Springs, several school board elections and a smattering of ballot issues, to include questions that will impact the future of trails, TABOR refunds and cannabis taxes. Take a look at what we have to say about this year’s ballot — then do some research of your own. Just remember: You really can help determine the future of the city. 

We’re happy to do our part. Now get out and vote!

Colorado Springs Issue 6B

This one feels like a no-brainer: The measure simply corrects a pretty clear inequity. For some reason, 2,268 properties in Briargate’s Special Improvement Maintenance District (SIMD) haven’t been taxed since the district was created in 1983. That means they haven’t been paying the money the SIMD uses to maintain common areas. The remaining 7,674 properties have paid the taxes — on average $100 a year to the district — giving the others a free ride while maintenance falls behind for lack of proper funding. 

The cash shortage has forced the SIMD to take a range of austerity measures. The district is responsible for maintenance of medians, rights of way, open spaces, a park and playground, volleyball court, turf, irrigation, trees, shrubs, landscape beds, native vegetation, trails, trail and sidewalk snow removal, landscape lighting, signage and other amenities, according to the City of Colorado Springs.

Only voters who live in the Briargate area will vote on 6B, which would create a General Improvement District (GID) to replace the existing SIMD, which seems to be broken. The measure would impose a tax of about $100 a year on all properties in the GID, which is generally bounded by Briargate Parkway to the north, Woodmen Road to the south, Chapel Hills Drive to the west and Powers Boulevard to the east.

The measure also seeks to exempt the revenue, estimated at $1.4 million a year, from TABOR caps.

If the measure fails, the inequity stands. Some will pay, some won’t, and the cash crunch will continue.

Vote yes on 6B 

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Colorado Springs Issue 2C

The Trails, Open Space and Parks sales and use tax (TOPS) is a rarity in these parts — a tax voters tend to agree on and support. First approved in 1997, TOPS has paid for 7,169 acres of open space, improvement or construction of 66 parks and over 50 miles of trail.

The tax isn’t due for renewal until 2025, so passing 2C now — with its increase from 1 cent on every $10 to 2 cents — would mean its $11,134,000 annual revenue bump starts years sooner, on Jan. 1, 2022. And this is a good thing. On the other hand, given that we have until 2025, we question why the city has conducted a needs assessment on parks but no similar assessment on open space before putting 2C on the ballot. Especially since City Council just reduced the parkland developers are required to set aside for new developments (per 1,000 residents) from 7.5 acres to 5.5.

And then there’s the allocation changes. The original TOPS tax gave 60 percent of the revenue to preserving open space while 2C drops that to 21 percent. We don’t like 2C’s vastly increased allocations for administration and parks maintenance — money we believe should come from the general fund and increased LART taxes. The city has failed to restore support for parks to pre-Great Recession levels — from $19.8 million in 2007 (population 400,000) to just $17.4 million (population 489,000) allocated in the 2022 budget.

We’re also leery of 2C’s fuzzy ballot language, which gives the parks department more discretion than we’re comfortable with.

Meanwhile, Trust for Public Land’s Park-Score — acreage, amenities, investment, access and equity — dropped the Springs parks system to 56th place among the 100 largest U.S. cities this year, down from 23rd in 2014.

We will hold our noses and vote for 2C because we need more money for parks. But Springs taxpayers should demand total transparency as this money is spent — and the parks department must be totally open to it.

Vote Yes (with reservations) on 2c

El paso county issue 1A

This year, El Paso County received $140 million from the American Rescue Plan Act and opted to spend $500,000 of that for county employees to get $12 tickets to the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum. Some of that money also went to ensure that the Board of El Paso County Commissioners and high-level employees received VIP access to the museum. 

Then, the commissioners decided to use some of the largesse from their budget (local money, not federal) on three zoo trips for county employees, totaling $45,522 of taxpayer money. And, according to springstaxpayers.com, which asked for the emails about the zoo trip, that’s not all. 

El Paso County employees also received tickets to a Switchbacks game, costing $9,000, and a congratulatory sign at the game, which cost $1,065. The site also found, through open records requests, that the county formed a committee of 18 people to decide how to best thank employees for their hard work and dedication. 

Does it really take 18 people to decide on zoo trips and a soccer game? Think of lost opportunities to solve some county problems while this group was noodling over how exactly to reward themselves. Apparently, it took some 81 emails to come up with this plan. 

And now, the El Paso County Board of Commissioners wants taxpayers to vote to agree to allow them to retain at least $15 million in surplus tax dollars above the county’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights limits. Doing so would also reset the county’s TABOR limits to the surplus levels. They’d spend the money on parks and roads. 

Hmmm. That seems odd for a bunch of fiscal conservatives, doesn’t it? Maybe the commissioners aren’t so conservative when it comes to rewarding themselves or county staff? 

Here’s an idea: Put together a committee to investigate other ways of paying for parks and road improvements. That would benefit everyone in the county and give employees a real sense of accomplishment. There are other ways to reward public employees without using taxpayer money. If the commission opts to spend money entrusted to them more wisely in the future, then perhaps the voters would agree to give them more. 

Vote No on 1A

Colorado Amendment 78

The ink barely dried on this proposed amendment before the first lawsuit was filed against the Secretary of State’s Office — not a good start.

Amendment 78, placed on the ballot through citizen initiative, would transfer the power to appropriate custodial funds (state revenue not generated through taxes) from the state treasurer to the state legislature. Those custodial funds include federal relief dollars and legal settlements, which are now allocated by the state treasurer. The amendment would require public hearings to be held on how the funds should be spent before being allocated.

As it stands today, the General Assembly appropriates state tax revenue through the budget process. Dollars from outside the state government are not typically subject to the legislative appropriation process. Amendment 78 would change the Colorado Constitution and state law by requiring lawmakers to determine how the state spends that money through a process that includes a public hearing. All custodial funds would go into a centralized account and interest from that account would end up in the state’s general fund.

The lawsuit is one black eye for the amendment. It argues that the measure shouldn’t even be on this year’s ballot because Colorado’s odd-year elections are to be reserved for Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR)-related questions. Custodial funds, including interest revenue, would be retained and spent as a voter-approved change and would be exempt from limitations under TABOR.

But an even more concerning aspect of the amendment is, if passed, it would create an additional level of bureaucracy through a Custodial Fund Transparency Account, according to the 2021 State Ballot Information Booklet (Blue Book). That account would receive all custodial funds and the General Assembly would be responsible for appropriating those funds.

Proponents say the measure would bring more accountability and transparency in how funds from federal relief and legal settlements are spent. But the problem lies in the custodial account. These funds are often needed to address emergent issues and creating a new layer of government would slow that process.

The unintended consequences of passing this amendment aren’t entirely clear. We feel more time is needed to determine the impacts of a change such as this.

Vote no on Amendment 78

cannabis, marijuana

Colorado Proposition 119

This proposition is introduced under the assumption that marijuana taxes can and should act as a bottomless pot of gold for educational funding (to include private and religious institutions). A “yes” vote here would “fund financial aid or tutoring and other out-of-school enrichment and instruction through an increase in retail marijuana taxes and transfers from existing state funds,” according to this year’s Blue Book. Sounds harmless, right?

The existing taxes on recreational cannabis in Colorado are well known. There’s a 15 percent tax on the sale from the grower to the retailer, a 15 percent state sales tax from the seller to the customer, and this is in addition to regular taxes levied by the city and the county. In El Paso County, you’re looking at more than 40 percent in taxes. No other industry must submit to these punitive demands.  

Passage of this proposition will create an unfair business environment weighted against cannabis entrepreneurs and the cost will likely be passed on to the consumer, which could lead to a resurgence of black market sales. In addition, passage of Prop 119 would create the nine-member, governor-appointed Colorado Learning Authority, an unnecessary bureaucracy tied to our educational system.  

Colorado voters demanded in 2012 that the billion-dollar rec marijuana industry be regulated like alcohol. If this proposition passes, recreational marijuana will be a well voters will have returned to one too many times. The cannabis industry should not be an ATM machine for every educational project in the state.

Vote no on Proposition 119

Colorado Proposition 120

The proposition, as written, sounds like both homeowners and owners of lodging and multifamily housing units would get a property tax break that equals about a combined $1 billion a year. 

But there’s a catch. The General Assembly voted to change the property tax laws after language for Prop 120 was approved and on the ballot. Thanks to the Legislature’s actions, the law will now only apply to owners of multifamily homes and lodging properties. 

It’s a smaller chunk of money for businesses, but one that could mean a big loss for communities. That tax money goes to public libraries, local school districts, water and sewer districts, and to fighting fires. In short, it’s local money that goes to local needs. 

Colorado Springs has been lucky lately — we haven’t had a disaster since the 2013 Black Forest fire. But other parts of the state haven’t been so lucky. Local firefighters are called to raging wildfires just as they are to structure fires.

The Pikes Peak Library District is an amazing place for kids, for families, for all of us. Libraries not only lend books, they serve as places for people to access the internet (for free), to find resources for jobs and for safety net services. Businesses can use the library’s research branch to help inform their business plans. It’s a public good; and PPLD deserves those dollars. The library is one of the few places in America these days that is open to the public, provides services far beyond its original purpose and is a gathering place for neighborhoods.

Local water and sewer districts operate in the background for most of us but serve as a vital service to keep us healthy. As water becomes a larger issue, we need to make sure these independent districts are fully operational. 

The Legislature so limited the impact of this proposition that only businesses benefit. Just vote no, gather that revenue for the groups who benefit. And that’s all of us.

Vote No on prop 120

Manitou Springs

Manitou Springs mayors serve for two years; City Council members for four. This election will determine the three ward representatives, who will take office in January 2022. The three at-large councilors’ terms end in January 2024. 

A Manitou ward map and additional information can be found at

manitouspringsgov.com/156/_Elections-2021.

John Graham mug (cropped, use the other version for a feature photo)

John Graham

John Graham and Alan Delwiche staged a remarkably nice political duel two years ago. Graham prevailed in 2019 and appeared on track for an uncontested second term until a summer skirmish erupted over restoration efforts at the historic Hiawatha Gardens property. When City Council and others differed with Graham, he responded by basically saying if you don’t like it, run against me. Delwiche, who has continued his longtime service leading Manitou’s planning commission, gathered signatures and entered the race. Tyler Graefe, is a write-in candidate.

Our main question is whether Graham has done anything to disqualify himself. We might disagree with some of his approaches, but he’s served Manitou well throughout COVID. Personalities aside, our preference has long been that Manitou’s mayoral term should be four years, not two years, allowing more continuity and stability. Councilors serve four-year terms, so why not the mayor? Graham knows the issues and deserves another term, hopefully without as many COVID-related obstacles — and fewer disruptive construction projects. 

Vote Graham 

Michelle Whetherhult mug

Michelle Whetherhult

City Council: Manitou is voting on positions for the town’s three wards. Natalie Johnson (Ward 1) and Nancy Fortuin (Ward 2) are unopposed. Ward 3 (north and west), with incumbent Steve Bremner not running, is contested between Robert Todd and Michelle Whetherhult. Todd served on Council previously but resigned citing health reasons after a 2019 controversy over divisive maneuvering as he sought to become the city administrator. Whetherhult, who works for Comcast and serves on the Manitou Art Center board, brings fresh energy. The more enthusiastic new faces, the better.

Vote Whetherhult

Disclosure: Indy founder and chairman John Weiss is a contributor to the TOPS campaign.