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Ballot Issue 1A to fund Bear Creek Park, 11 other projects, supporters pledge

       In Ballot Issue 1A, voters have a chance to authorize just over $2 million for El Paso County parks improvements - including $225,000 pledged by county commissioners for Bear Creek Regional Park - without having to pay any new taxes.
       The catch is that those taxes have already been paid, by property owners in the county in 2013. The ballot item notes that this is “excess revenue” from 2013. Under the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR), a state constitutional amendment passed in 1992, the county has to refund such money unless voters say otherwise.
       1A is part of the current mail-in election, which has a ballot-submittal deadline of Nov. 4. If it fails, the amount each county property owner would be refunded is $8.41.
       “Over the past decade, El Paso County has struggled with providing sufficient resources to effectively maintain our county park system
A string quartet performs at a special "Candlelight" Bear Creek Nature Center fundraising event in December 2010. Some of the exhibits can be seen in the photo. Exhibit upgrades at the center are among the improvements under the Bear Creek Regional Park Improvements category on the project list that county commissioners approved in putting Ballot Issue 1A before the voters in the Nov. 4 election.
Westside Pioneer file photo
due to a challenging economy and other critical needs,” reads the 1A “pro” argument in the County Clerk's Office voter mailing (known informally as the TABOR Notice). “General fund support for county parks plunged from $1.8 million in 2003 to $300,000 in 2008. In 2015 it will be approximately $1 million. 1A will be used to "take care of what we have…"
       The “con” summary charges that the proposal “would simply free up current park money to go to welfare handouts, pay, pensions and the other big items in their budget.” There's even a warning that senior citizens would have to “eat cat food” without their $8.41 apiece.
       Another “con” criticism is 1A's lack of a precise project list. While the language states that the money would be “restricted only to fund improvements to trails, nature centers [and] regional parks,” those words are followed by the conditional term, “such as,” preceding the names of several park facilities, among them “Bear Creek.”
       But there actually is a list, with estimated dollar amounts designated for each of 12 projects from the retained tax revenues. According to Tim Wolken, director of the county's Community Services Department, which includes County Parks, “The proposed project list was also included as an attachment when the Board of County Commissioners approved the 1A ballot language.”
       One of the projects is listed as “Bear Creek Regional Park Improvements.” It shows a dollar amount of $225,000. The accompanying text states that “the funds will be used to upgrade Bear Creek Nature Center exhibits to provide a more interactive and educational presentation, resurface parking lots and tennis courts, upgrade the vita course, and other facility improvements.”
       Another project with Westside impacts is “Jones Park Renovation Project,” with a dollar amount of $200,000. Jones Park is a scenic mountainous location south of the Westside, currently owned by Colorado Springs Utilities in the midst of National Forest Service lands. “If the city of Colorado Springs elects to convey Jones Park to the County [as the county has requested], the funds will be used to support significant trail system restoration to allow the trails to continue to support both motorized and non-motorized recreation and to address environmental issues impacting Bear Creek,” reads the Jones Park description on the project list.
       If the city says no on the Jones Park conveyance, the ballot issue as stated would give the county the flexibility to use the retained tax money on other projects on the list, Wolken's e-mail states.
       His e-mail also points out that “some of the proposed projects will require resources in addition to the 1A funding to fully complete [them]. County Parks has a good track record of leveraging funds… so we are fully confident that we will be successful in raising the needed additional funding if 1A is successful.”
       Susan Davies, director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition, which is leading the 1A advocacy effort, said she is certain that the county will use the money on the announced projects. “You better believe, I'm going to scream bloody murder,” she said, if it doesn't work out that way. “But I am confident these projects will get funding.”
       The Coalition provides the commissioner-approved project list at http://www.trailsandopenspaces.org/vote-yes.

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 10/22/14; Politics: City/County)

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