Pure politics were on display today at the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners meeting, where a citizen effort to mount a ballot measure to maintain parks across the county and its cities was withdrawn due to political pressure.
"We never had a prayer," said Susan Davies, spokeswoman for the Trails and Open Space Coalition, after the meeting. TOSC had convened the Great Parks - Great Communities effort in hopes of placing a tax-increase question on the November 2011 election ballot.
In the interest of maintaining a working relationship with commissioners, Davies says the group withdrew its request. But actually, it never even got to make an official request at all.
Davies simply told commissioners that the group realized it didn't have the political backing to pursue a ballot measure and, therefore, wouldn't be asking for one. Several people spoke in support of parks generally, as did the commissioners.
However, Jeff Kramer, county parks board member, dared to suggest that parks aren't really the issue at this point. "I'm not so sure you believe it's the people's right to vote or not," he told commissioners. "That's what Great Parks is about: Let the people decide. I believe if you vote to allow this to go on the ballot, you wouldn't be the ones to allow taxes to increase. You would be allowing people to vote. That's what America is about. Do the people decide, or do the elected officials decide."
In response, Commissioner Darryl Glenn brought out the big guns.
Glenn told Kramer he would have mounted a commission resolution officially opposing the parks tax, the same position taken by newly elected Mayor Steve Bach. "Do you want to have a mayor openly opposed to this request and a resolution not supporting this tax out there?" Glenn said. "I don't think the timing is right."
Commissioner Dennis Hisey said the county usually doesn't have any measures on the ballot in off years. But a search of past ballots shows that in 2003, the county proposed a tax increase for the disabled and also asked permission to retain revenue under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. In 2001, there were two tax retention measures, and a measure to extend term limits for the county coroner.
"Thus far, there are no county issues on the ballot, so the county will not be participating in the election," Hisey said during the meeting. He later clarified his statement to mean that the county has not yet decided whether it will be part of the election.
But it's not looking good for the voters who want another shot at a term-limits question. In November 2010, voters approved three measures allowing county elected officials a third, four-year term, but the wording was tricky; the measures asked if they wanted to limit officials to three terms, rather than increase the limit from two terms to three.
It's become a swirling controversy that's led commissioners to schedule two public meetings to gain input.
The first meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the Hearing Room of the Regional Development Center at 2880 International Circle. The second will take place as part of commissioners regular agenda for the June 30 meeting, which begins at 9 a.m. in the County Office Building, 27 E. Vermijo Ave.
Commissioners chimed in full chorus their support for parks in response to Davies' pitch that elected officials up the ante for support for parks from existing budgets.
After the meeting, Davies held court with a few reporters, saying Bach's pledge to spend $700,000 to water and seed some parks falls far short of what's desperately needed. She notes that the additional money won't open pools or keep grass growing throughout a summer that's sure to bring more people than usual to the park system, as they look for economical recreation in the recession.
"People expect basic maintenance for their parks," she said.
She also said Great Parks - Great Communities will continue its effort to keep awareness alive, including lobbying during coming budget meetings for the city and county to put their money where their mouths have been of late. Lastly, she said the citizen group might decide to make the issue only city-wide rather than county-wide, if the group senses more support from the city.
————— ORIGINAL POST, 10:32 A.M. ————-
There will be no proposal for a small sales-tax increase, the Great Parks - Great Communities Initiative, on the November 2011 election ballot for El Paso County.
The proposal, which would have created funding for sustained maintenance of parks and open space throughout the county, was withdrawn by the Trails and Open Space Coalition at this morning's meeting of the Board of County Commissioners.
The initiative's supporters backed away after learning that, if the issue were placed on the ballot, commissioners would pass a resolution opposing it. Also, newly elected Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach already has voiced his opposition because it would create a new tax (.15 of a cent).
Susan Davies, executive director of TOSC, said it was more important for her group to be able to continue working long-term with the county government.