Parks supporters will seek ballot measure

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Armed with a voter survey showing support for a parks tax, a citizen coalition says it will ask El Paso County commissioners to submit a tax increase to voters in November to provide money for park maintenance countywide.

Great Parks - Great Communities, a citizen group, has been meeting since fall 2009 after Colorado Springs City Council cut the parks budget from $19 million to $3 million and after El Paso County whacked parks support from $2.4 million to $600,000 and even discussed selling Bear Creek Park.

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Last month, the group commissioned a voter survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, which found "majority support for a proposal to designate a specific tax in order to fund operations and basic maintenance of parks, trails and open space in the county,” the Trails and Open Space Coalition, which is participating in the effort, says in a press release.

The survey showed:

— 59% indicated they would vote "yes" in support of a .1 of a percent sales tax increase; 38 percent said they'd vote "no."
— 53% said they would vote "yes" in favor of a .25 of a percent tax increase; 45% said they would oppose it.
— 82% supported “allowing El Paso County voters the chance to vote on this issue."

The Trails and Open Space Coalition's website lists key components that likely will be included in a proposed measure:

— Funding would be countywide, split among each of the jurisdictions using a population based formula, to be used on their priority projects as defined by each jurisdiction but within defined guidelines.
— Current park advisory boards and programs like TOPS would not be altered.
— A countywide citizen advisory board would be appointed by the cities, towns and the county to ensure accountability of the funds and provide a forum for cooperation.
— Funding would be dedicated to ongoing needs including parks, trails and open space maintenance, operations and repair, and not to system expansion.
— An annual report would be provided to all county residents detailing how funds were spent.
— Funding would require periodic citizen reauthorization

It's unclear if the tax would replace the city's TOPS tax already in place.

The release says:

Great Parks — Great Communities is meeting regularly with representatives from local municipalities to get their input and support for allowing the voters the chance to decide, and met with 75 representatives from more than 30 community organizations in a forum held Monday, May 2, 2011. GPGC will present our survey and list of supporting communities and organizations to the County Commissioners for formal consideration.

If county commissioners acquiesce and allow the measure on the November ballot, they might as well place term limits measures on the ballot also. County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams has argued against re-submitting the term limits issues in 2011, because doing so would cost the county about $300,000 — it's share of off-year election costs. However, if the parks tax goes on the ballot, there's no additional charge to the county to place additional measures on the ballot.

Term limits for commissioners, elected county officials and the district attorney were approved by voters last November, but voters have since complained they didn't understand the measures, which County Attorney Bill Louis has said was worded in a way to encourage approval.

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