One of two measures Colorado Springs voters will decide in April’s election would allow the city to spend more money on park maintenance from TOPS, a fund that uses a 0.1% sales tax to buy land for outdoor recreation. The city has a big backlog of park maintenance and construction projects, but as KRCC’s Liz Ruskin reports, one park advocacy group says this measure isn’t a great solution.
Richard Skorman is one of the original campaigners for TOPS. It raises about $6 million a year, mostly for purchasing open space that requires little maintenance. But 20 percent is dedicated to creating city parks. Since its passage in 1997, Colorado Springs has developed 34 new parks with the fund. Skorman says the problem now is taking care of them.
"We’re in the north part of Memorial Park and we’re at a playground area that is pretty run down and is actually pretty heavily used. If the TOPS adjustment passes this will be one of the first places they’ll be able to fix up."
Skorman recently chaired the mayor’s Parks Solutions Team, which proposed the ballot measure. He says it would give the city the flexibility to spend the 20 percent of TOPS that’s now reserved for creating parks on renovation and upkeep, too.
"When the recession hit they really were in a pickle for funding. So they have this 20 percent category for the TOPS parks that is currently just being stockpiled because they don’t want to build any more parks that they can’t maintain."
The ballot measure would also for the first time allow the city to spend TOPS money to maintain pre-TOPS parks, like Memorial. One goal is to retrofit inefficient irrigation systems.
Susan Davies agrees about the need for maintenance and renovation. She directs the Trails and Open Space Coalition and served on Skorman’s Parks Solutions Team. But her group is asking voters to reject the ballot measure. Davies says their concern is that if the measure is passed, the city could use the TOPS money to replace regular maintenance spending.
"We really wanted language in the ballot measure that would guarantee that at the end of the day maintenance for parks was improved, not status quo. I think we all agree status quo wasn’t good enough."
Mayor Steve Bach opposed putting such a promise in the ballot measure, but he recently declared in writing he has no intention of lowering the budget for maintenance if this passes, unless there’s some kind of emergency. City Council also said much the same in a nonbinding resolution last week. Davies says the statements are helpful, but the TOPS fund should be protected by more than that.
"What voters will be deciding in April is, do you trust policy makers to do the right thing? We hope they do. We hope we’re wrong."
Ballots are already in the mail. The deadline for returning them is April 2nd.