Trails & Open Space (TOPS) Tax
It's a Municipal Parks Maintenance Tax with a side of trails & Open Space, only 40.9% of the total tax actually goes towards Open Space acquisition for the next 20 years. We believe the very limited Open Space dollars will be immediately funned to develop the Pike View Quarry Bike Park -- Taxpayer Money Pit and will destroy our Trails & Open Space Program. For those who want more details, see below.
Parks & Open Spaces are what drew us all to this beautiful city. It's vital to our future and Colorado Springs' children and grandchildren that we protect and grow our Open Spaces. We wholeheartedly support the concept of the TOPS tax, but voters needs to understand exactly what this new tax means. First and foremost, it is not a Charter Change. Charter Changes require that ANY changes to the tax amount and/or implementation and parameters must go to a vote of the people to change it. It's like the Constitution for our City and is our most protected legislation. This will not be a Charter Change; so, the parameters are subject to change via administrative action and City Council. In other words, these appropriations can be immediately changed to put all the money in maintenance which is the fear.
The ballot language itself is highly misleading. The voters will read the blow to infer that 75% of the tax (i.e. 75 cents of every dollar) is being allocated to the acquisition of open space. That is incorrect. In reality, only 40.9 cents of every dollar will be allocated to open space acquisition, assuming those parameters even hold. We would llke to see better fiscal management, an improved tax base with higher wage jobs so we can expand the General Fund allocation of maintenance for municipal parks which is what is supposed to be and create a TOPS tax that is dedicated solely to Trails and Open Spaces as TOPS was originally intended. Additionally, we have strong reason to believe that the 40.9 cents per every dollar, the Open Space piece, will be going directly to reclaiming the Pike View Quarry which we also believe will be an impossibility - a giant taxpayers money pit. We have spoken with individuals involved in studies on that reclamation work who inform us that there's not enough dirt or funds to buy that dirt under the current agreement of about $20 million in reclamation work. We have also been informed that the slopes are 2 to 1 and 3 to 1 which will cause repeated landslides of any reclamation work that is done on top of that granite. Our Parks Director just approved strip mining they are cleverly trying to rename as "strip reclamation" where they are allowing about a 30 acre section east of the quarry that is beautiful be mined because there is a funding shortage. We believe this is why Cory Sutela, the paid Executive Director of Medicine Wheel (a cyclist lobby organization) is working so hard to get people to support this deal -- because it's the only way they have a shot at taxpayer dollars to pour into this doomed reclamation work. We object to TOPS funds being used this way and believe it's not in spirit with what the voters want or believe they would be passing. We have time to let a new mayor get this right and oppose this new version which, equally importantly, removes the "Vote of the People" language that was in the previous versions although that doesn't stick unless it's a Charter Change.
At a minimum, there needs to be total transparency with the voters so they understand exactly what they are voting for. This language is grossly misleading. We recommend voting against this tax that will, very likely, trigger a money pit of reclamation work (Pike View Quarry Bike Park) that will ultimately fail and be fenced off after millions in TOPS dollars are poured into trying to fix it.
Below is the actual Resolution. We object to the following:
It's a resolution not an ordinance. Resolutions only take one vote to pass by council and are even flimsier in their enforcement. Charter Changes are the only code that sticks and requires a vote of the people to change any parameters.
The ballot language which states: "requiring seventy-five percent (75% of open space funds be used for acquisition of open space...". This is highly misleading and leaves voters with the impression that 75% of all funds raised will go to acquiring open space when it is, in truth, 40.9%. Additionally, as previously noted, only a Charter Change requires a vote of the people to change the parameters. This is not a Charter Change; so, these parameters can be changed administratively via a City Council approval.
This will be in effect for TWENTY YEARS. That's an extremely long time, especially given the concerns with this language and lack of voter enforceability. We have time to get it right and should.
We pointed out that this nullifies the previous language which, though still permeable, at least had the appearance of requiring a Vote of the People to change. That language is not in the current Resolution, and, anything prior to it appears to be repealed by section 8.
Most importantly, as our support was courted, we noted these problems and concerns. Mr. Sutela said the City legal office had put in writing that these appropriations are fixed and cannot be changed administratively. We asked to see that in writing from Ms. Massey. Still waiting on that one.