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Turning a new leaf


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Your neighborhood park might soon be relieved of its bluegrass.

Using types of grass that need less water — or doing without grass altogether — in underused parks was just one of the proposals presented at Monday's informal City Council meeting by Mayor Steve Bach's appointed Parks Solutions Team. Led by former vice mayor and mayoral candidate Richard Skorman, the group proposed a host of ideas to better fund parks maintenance and save money.

"We went through a pretty elaborate process where we met once a week for about 2½ months, and each time we met there was a different theme that we went through and tried to study," Skorman told the Independent recently.

Skorman and other parks advocates who served on the team concentrated on reducing maintenance at existing parks, slowing the establishment of new parks, and reducing the costs of needed maintenance.

At Monday's informal meeting, Councilors could not immediately give their blessing to the changes, some of which will require them to amend ordinances, or voters to change laws. Others will need to go before Council in its role as the board of Colorado Springs Utilities.

Those items, which include special discounting of supplies and services for parks, led Council President Scott Hente to issue a warning. Hente noted that Issue 300, a ballot measure passed by voters in November 2009, forbids gifts between the city and its enterprises.

"It affects some of the things you're trying to do," Hente said.

Still, Councilors expressed support for the plan. The main recommendations are:

• Ask voters in November to change the Trails, Open Space and Parks dedicated sales tax. The change would allow the 6 percent maintenance fund to be spent on all city parks, instead of just the ones built using TOPS funds. Furthermore, the 20 percent of the tax currently used for capital parks expenses would be available to all parks, not just TOPS parks. Millions are currently sitting in the TOPS parks fund unused, since the city has shied from buying new parks during the recession.

• Ask Utilities to offer water-conservation discounts to parks, continue updating irrigation systems in parks, and put a line on Utilities bills to allow customers to donate to parks. Utilities can't legally offer artificially low rates to parks across the board because of bond covenants, but it's now working to change that over the future decades.

• Replace the law stating how much land developers must allocate to parks in new developments with a more flexible ordinance.

• Convert 10 percent of irrigated park grass to more hardy varieties by 2013. Explore re-purposing underused parks — for instance, as community gardens — or partnering with other organizations to maintain them.

• Plan more for the long-term maintenance of parks and open spaces before they're built. When possible, set aside money for maintenance beforehand.

Finally, when Utilities sells water to users outside Colorado Springs, the city receives 50 percent of the money; the team would like to ask the city to use that money to water parks.


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