GUEST COLUMN:
Struggle for significance
By Ron Wright

       I am writing as president of the Living History Association (LHA) at the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site, but all of us have the opportunity now to leave a legacy and make history happen for Colorado Springs. We invite you to be a part of saving our Parks and Recreation and Cultural Services as we shepherd the goals of Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site into a cultural moment for the future of our city.


       This may seem overly dramatic, but the issue at-hand is one of vital importance to the community: the continuing operation of the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site. The ranch, along with other parks and cultural centers, is on the chopping block as the city tries to find money to stay afloat. Rather than passing a budget on its own, a ballot initiative was adopted by City Council Aug. 25 that would raise the mill levy over a five-year period in order to keep city government services at the 2009 funding level.
       This property tax initiative will be on the Nov. 3 ballot.
       As you and I struggle for significance within the confines of our 2010 city budget, it is prudent to have a reality check regarding the city's Park Recreation and Cultural Services. At last year's budget hearings, your Living History Association, along with many other associations, were very vocal about preserving that which makes Colorado Springs a destination for tourists and a quality place to raise a family. What sets us apart, what makes us a desirable place to visit and live, is our access to the outdoors, and the vast array of cultural activities available to all.
       Like many of us, your initial response might be: “Not a tax increase, especially in these difficult economic times.” However, Colorado Springs ranks 7th in property taxes in a survey of 10 Colorado Front Range cities. Arvada, Lakewood and Westminster have lower property taxes, yet Arvada and Westminster are serviced by parks and recreation districts where a separate tax is assessed to provide those amenities. And all three cities have a higher sales tax than Colorado Springs.
       In Colorado Springs, a homeowner who has a home assessed at $262,000 will be assessed $1,238 in property tax in 2009, and only $103 or 8 percent of that tax goes to fund city services. Half of the city's general fund budget comes from sales tax. That revenue has dropped significantly in 2008-2009. By comparison, only Fort Collins receives a lower percent of sales tax than Colorado Springs (3 percent compared to 3.5 percent) in a survey of the same ten Colorado Front Range cities. Of that 3.5 percent sales tax received by the city of Colorado Springs, 2 percent goes to the city's general fund; the other 1.5 percent has been designated by previous citizen votes for specific services such as police and transit.
       Already, $50 million has been eliminated from the city's budget for fiscal year 2008-2009, leaving a $22 million budget deficit over the last two years. Another shortage of $25.4 million is projected for 2010 and will include significant cuts to all city departments including Police and Fire. The Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department has lost a huge percentage of its budget in 2008-2009 and can lose substantially more during this budget shortage which could include the dismantling of the department.
       This ballot initiative is a reasonable measure designed to keep services at their current level. It does not affect the other community services that receive funding from property tax, such as libraries, school districts and the county. The ballot issue includes 10 mills proposed for levy over five years:
  • Six of those 10 mills would be levied in the first year to cover the 2010 budget shortfall
  • One additional mill would be levied in each of the next four years
  • Each mill costs a homeowner $21 and brings in $4.4 million to the city
  • At the end of five years, the increase will cost the average homeowner $210, or $4 per week
           The ballot issue includes removing the Business Personal Property Tax to assist businesses with the burden of the extra property tax.
           In conclusion, we, the Living History Association of the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site, ask that you look at the value of the ranch and consider the grave outcome for neighborhoods, parks, and cultural services. Our struggle for significance in these trying times embodies the core values of our city and its way-of-life. We ask for your support at the ballot box November 3. Please join us in casting your ballot in support of the property tax mill levy.
           For further information, please visit www.cityworthfightingfor.com.

    Ron Wright is the president of the Rock Ledge LHA, whose volunteeers handle many of the ranch activities, including building tours, ticket-taking, working in the store and meeting the public in historic attire. The above was edited (with permission) from a document that Wright has sent to LHA members.