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Colorado Springs to ask voters for sales tax increase to address backlog of parks, trails improvements

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Some of the city's tax revenue already supports operations of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services, but hasn't been enough to meet growing needs since the 2008 recession.

So, on Election Day in November, the city will place a measure on the ballot asking voters for more help.

The measure will ask voters to slightly increase the city's sales tax rate from 8.2% -- among the state's highest -- to 8.3%; it would raise the revenue currently generated for a dedicated parks fund from $10 million to $20 million annually.

City officials said that the increase would amount to citizens paying two cents on every $10 in sales; voters also would be asked to extend the dedicated fund for an additional 20 years.

The parks department has a $279 million backlog of needed park and trail improvements, construction of new parks and land acquisition for more more parks, trails and open spaces.

With use of parks facilities at an all-time high, city leaders believe this is the right time to ask voters for help and they say they have wide-ranging support for the idea.

"We're hoping that people will want to continue investing in our parks the same way that Gen. William Palmer did when he founded the city 150 years ago," said Karen Palus, director of city parks and recreation."

Palus said that the city wants to follow though with a parks master plan that was formulated with feedback from citizens.

"We're looking at paving trails and tennis courts, for example, with concrete instead of asphalt because asphalt is so expensive right now," she said. "We also want to water more efficiently because watering is our most expensive budget item. We want to be able to maintain and sustain what we have, and what we add."

City Councilman Richard Skorman said that a sales tax increase for the dedicated parks fund began shortly after passage of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR amendment) in 1992.

"This isn't a huge increase we're asking for and I think people will vote for it because they love our parks, trails and open spaces," he said. "Since the pandemic, more people than ever are visiting our parks. And it's tourists, too -- not just residents. We have to take care of (parks) and avoid loving them to death. We were just rated the sixth-best place to live in the country, but we're among the lowest in funding for park maintenance."

Skorman tried to reassure citizens who fear that money from the tax increase will be allocated for other uses.

"Ever since we've had the sales tax for parks, we've never spent it on anything else," he said. "It's about a third of the total parks and recreation budget. The rest comes from the city budget and grants we apply for. In the past, we have had to re-allocate some parks funding from the city budget for other priorities. We had to do that after the 2008 recession because we wanted to focus more on public safety. But this sales tax increase is dedicated funding for parks. There is plenty of oversight by several groups to ensure that the money is properly and wisely spent."

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Scott Harrison

Scott is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about Scott here.


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