EDITORíS DESK: On amending TOPS
Since 1997, Colorado Springs voters have twice voted overwhelmingly for the Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) program, as a result of approving a .1 percent
open space tax. The second vote, in 2003, extended the tax (and TOPS) until the year 2025. (A good part of the tax's revenues have flowed to the Westside, it might
be noted, as exemplified by the purchases of the Red Rock Canyon, White Acres and most recently Section 16 open-space areas.)
There's another, sometimes overlooked aspect to the TOPS tax, which is the prudent requirement that 6 percent of the revenues go for maintenance of tax-bought parks and open spaces. I bring this up because of Question 2C on the Nov. 2 election ballot. For the second time in two years (the first was April 2009), Colorado Springs City Council - desperate for ways to preserve urban city parks in a fell economy - is seeking to dip into the TOPS fund. Not only would the TOPS maintenance ceiling rise from 6 to 15 percent if the measure is approved, but the resulting funds (close to $1 million) would no longer be dedicated just to TOPS properties; they might go to repair broken swingsets, for example.
The only difference from the 2009 proposal is that the TOPS amendment this time would sunset in two years instead of five. My guess is that this change will make it more palatable to voters, leading to an even closer vote than in 2009, when the majority against was just 50.6 percent.
I could go either way on this question. I hate to see what's happening to our city parks, but the Trails and Open Space Coalition makes a good case that choice open space properties are more affordable for the same reason.
So it makes sense to decide this with a vote. The catch is, the way cities operate, once that 15 percent is gone, what are the chances of ever getting it back for open space? And then maybe in a few years, the city will beg for another 10 percent. And so on. Something to think about.