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Trails and Open Space Coalition disavow ballot measure

The measure allows the city to spend all of the 20 percent of the TOPS tax dedicated to parks, for parks maintenance.



The Trails and Open Space Coalition won't back the trails, open space and parks measure on the April 2 ballot.

The measure, proposed by Mayor Steve Bach's Parks Solutions Team, allows the city to spend all of the 20 percent of the TOPS tax dedicated to parks, for parks maintenance. (The rest of the tax money is split between trails and open space.)

Approved by voters in 1997, the tax was earmarked for acquisition and development, not maintenance. It generates about $6.2 million annually, of which about $1.1 million goes to parks.

Both the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and the TOPS Working Committee supported a "maintenance of effort" clause be added to prevent the city from simply using TOPS money to backfill any declines in general fund allocations for parks maintenance.

Mayor Steve Bach opposed the maintenance of effort (MOE) during the Jan. 22 Council meeting, saying it's "bad policy" because it ties his hands in allocating funding. "Are we saying parks are more important than the police department or roads?" Bach asked.

Council obliged the mayor, voting 7-2 to place the measure before voters without an MOE, with Councilors Jan Martin and Brandy Williams dissenting. Two days later, the coalition board voted to oppose the modified measure.

MOEs in the past haven't worked, most notably after the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority 1-percent sales tax was passed in 2004 with a requirement the city maintain its transit allocation from the general fund. It didn't, but rather relied on RTA money to backfill that loss.

In a letter to city parks director Karen Palus, the coalition said, "Without a maintenance of effort included in the ballot, we fear TOPS funding will be used [to] replace general fund support for parks, meaning less money supporting our parks, trails and open spaces. ... We watched what happened in 2010 when playgrounds weren't repaired, bathrooms closed and trash cans removed. Residents deserve assurances that our policymakers will not let that happen again."

Susan Davies, the coalition's executive director, says the group's opposition won't be overt, but will be clear.

"We won't be out with yard signs," she says. "But I think when our members and partners and other organizations ask us, we're going to be very honest about our position and explain why."

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