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Parks and taxation

County question 1A asks voters for $2 million for open spaces



Think your parks could use a boost?

Come November, El Paso County will be asking voters to keep over $2 million in taxes collected over Taxpayer's Bill of Rights limits. If voters approve, they'll be passing up an $8.41 credit on their property tax bills to fund a list of projects that would improve existing parks and add new properties. They could include 1,191-acre Jones Park should the city decide to gift that land — which includes a popular trail system but also a regulatory tangle related to a threatened fish — to the county.

Local anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce, who authored TABOR, opposes 1A, saying it's just another example of government overspending. But the measure also has plenty of allies. Trails and Open Space Coalition executive director Susan Davies says her organization is leading a low-budget campaign to get 1A passed. She says she hopes voters will make a small sacrifice to fund projects in county parks: "I would just hope people would think: 'Two cappuccinos, one gourmet hamburger, or do something really great for parks and trails?'"

County commissioners have a project list for 1A money, and Tim Wolken, the county's director of community services, says he's confident the projects will be completed should the measure pass. The money would help after years of underfunding, neglected maintenance and damaging floods and fires.

In 2003, the county's general fund had $2.5 million for parks; in 2006 it was just under $1.8 million; and by 2009 it was only $298,799. This year the budget is set at a bit over $1 million.

Here are the projects on the list:

Purchasing new park land: The money will go toward the purchases of several pieces of property, including: Elephant Rock Open Space ($100,000), a 63-acre property near Palmer Lake; and Wedgewood Farms Open Space ($100,000), a 63-acre site south of Fountain.

• Building new parks, open space and trails: Much of the money will help turn existing county properties into parks and trails. For instance, it will complete the first phase of: Pineries Open Space ($200,000), a 1,100-acre property in Black Forest; Falcon Regional Park ($250,000), next to Falcon High School; and Kane Ranch Open Space ($200,000), a 440-acre property east of Fountain. Money will also be used to plan and build the final section of the Ute Pass Regional Trail ($150,000), which connects Manitou Springs to Teller County.

• Improving and repairing existing properties: Among other projects, Bear Creek Regional Park, which was heavily damaged by floods, will see trail restoration, drainage improvements and other upgrades ($200,000). The Bear Creek Nature Center will get more interactive exhibits, and the park's tennis courts and parking lots will be resurfaced, the vita (fitness) course upgraded, and other improvements made ($225,000).

Should the county be gifted Jones Park, workers will restore the trail system for motorized and non-motorized users, while protecting the habitat of the threatened greenback cutthroat trout ($200,000).

There are "several dilapidated barns and buildings" on the County Fairgrounds that will be torn down and replaced with "multi-use, energy efficient and functional" buildings ($200,000). Several athletic fields in Fountain Creek Regional Park will be restored ($75,000), and the county also will repair damage to some of its more than 100 miles of trails ($144,758).

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