OUR VIEW: Don't buy parks we can't maintain

By: ed
December 14, 2012
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When investors buy more assets than they are able to maintain, the assets may quickly become liabilities they can no longer afford. What was supposed to work to the advantage of investors may become a financial burden. Shrewd property investors know better than to obtain more than they have the ability to manage and improve.

This principle is no different for local government, so we understand why Colorado Springs parks officials want slightly less money from the Trails, Open Space and Parks tax to pay for acquisition of land. They want slightly more of the revenue to pay for maintenance of, and renovations to, the land city government has.

Voters approved the TOPS tax in 1997 as a means of procuring and protecting pristine properties that might otherwise get developed. The ballot measure capped administrative costs at 3 percent of revenues, maintenance at 6 percent, to avoid risks of the money going for city operations.

The caps were smart and well-intended. No one wanted a tax that was sold on a basis of open space and land conservation to wind up padding general government functions. The system has worked quite well. The tax proceeds have bought 6,178 acres of open space, 32 parks and 46 miles of trails. These were just the kind of projects and acquisitions voters chose to pay for.

Few who voted up or down could have anticipated the financial crisis of the past four years, nor could they have anticipated a protracted recession would coincide with a severe drought more than a decade later. Those conditions have led to severe cuts in parks funding, irrigation and maintenance of open space, parks and trails.

Today, we have more parks, open space and trails than local government can manage and maintain.

More acquisition of parks would be foolhardy, until conditions improve, so it only makes sense to readjust priorities a bit and use a portion of money raised for acquisition to care for that which we own.

A Parks Solutions committee appointed by Mayor Steve Bach suggests a ballot measure that would ask voters for permission to use part of only the parks acquisition portion of TOPS revenue for maintenance and renovation. Twenty percent of TOPS revenues are earmarked for parks purchases.

The parks and Recreation Advisory Board approved the recommendation on Thursday. A final draft of the ballot language will be drafted by the city Attorney’s Office by Jan. 7.

The Gazette won’t endorse or oppose the ballot measure until the editorial board reviews it in final form. In the meantime, we support the concept of taking better care of what we own before acquiring even more to support and maintain.

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