COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Local parks advocates conducted a media tour of several parks facilities Thursday in support of Issue 2C, next month's ballot initiative to fund proposed projects.
Outdoor advocates and city officials took media crews to three locations to show where projects have already been done and what projects would be completed with additional funding, if approved by voters on Election Day.
Officials said that a sales tax increase -- to two cents on a dollar -- would double the amount of funding from $11 million to $22 million annually to pay for needed parks maintenance, building new parks and acquiring land for future parks.
In addition to the sales tax increase, voters also would decide whether to extend the tax for 20 years after the current version expires in 2025.
Officials said that because of the city's rapid growth and budget cuts after the 2008 recession, the city has a $270 million backlog of parks projects -- some of which have taken decades to address. Public use of parks also has increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If the issue fails next month, officials said that they will come back with another proposal for voters to consider in the future.
Park visitors who spoke with KRDO NewsChannel 13 have mixed reaction to the issue.
"I think we need to continue supporting outdoor space," said Emily McIsaac. "I think it's great. We have two kids and they love it here as well, so I'm all for it."
But Luci Gendreau said, "I love the fact that we have parks readily available for us. But I don't think that increasing sales tax for us, is going to be the way to go about that. I feel like they should definitely be looking at other places."
The tour started at Stratton Open Space in southwestern Colorado Springs, the first property acquired under the the existing TOPS tax approved by voters in 1997.
"This was slated to be from 300 to 500 homes, and luckily we were able to convince the developer to step aside from his option because it was all master planned and ready to go," said City Councilman Richard Skorman.
Now one of the city's most popular outdoor recreation areas, Skorman said that Stratton is an example of how acquiring land can benefit the community.
The tour's second stop was along Las Vegas Street, south of downtown, where the city wants to a build a trail under a railroad bridge that connects to the Legacy Loop trail system.
"That could cost around $1 million," said Britt Haley, design and development manager for city parks and recreation. "And we also need the railroad's cooperation. We're still working on that."
Finally, the tour ended in the north side neighborhood of Grey Hawk, where lack of funding has delayed construction of a new park for 15 years.
"It's very expensive to maintain parks when you consider the costs of water, mowing and playground equipment," said Karen Palus, the city's parks and recreation director. "Concrete and asphalt cost more. Acquiring land costs more."
Officials said even if voters approve Issue 2C, the city will still have one of the lowest tax rates for parks along the Front Range.
"And by going with a sales tax, tourists who also use our parks are helping to maintain them," said Susan Davies, director of the Trails & Open Space Coalition.
Davies said that for local residents, passage of 2C would cost the average household an additional $1.17 per month.