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BARRY NOREEN: 20 years later, city's tax keeps on giving

August 17, 2008
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  Call it The Last Great Tax.

   It was the last Colorado Springs tax enacted by the City Council before the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, a statewide constitutional amendment in 1992, required that new taxes must be approved by the voters.
 
 By the end of this year, the user-pay innovation will have generated about $2 million since it began 20 years ago. City officials have used money from the tax to get hundreds of thousands in matching grants from the federal government.
 
 A thing of enduring beauty, for sure: the city's $4 excise tax on new bicycles.
   Last year, city retailers sold 32,853 new bicycles (the tax does not apply to used bikes or those with wheel diameters of 14 inches or less). One way to put that number into perspective is to note that auto dealers sold 23,512 new models countywide in 2007.
 
 If you haven't purchased a bike since 1988, the tax hasn't cost you anything, while it has added some ambience to the city you live in.
   "There's no way we could have put in the facilities we've put in in the last 20 years without the bike tax," said city planner Craig Blewitt.
 
  Cities have various ways of paying for bike paths, but Blewitt said Colorado Springs is the only one that has an excise tax. In times when every tax or rate increase proposal seems to trigger a new Whiskey Rebellion, it's amazing that no one opposed the excise tax when it was suggested.
 
 "It was well thought-out," Blewitt said. "We did a lot of work with retailers before we imposed it."
   The city has grown a lot in the past 20 years, and the flat rate of $4 amounts to a smaller percentage of the typical sale these days. But because twice as many bikes are sold now than in 1989, the tax has managed to keep up with the times, Blewitt said.
 
  John Crandall, owner of the Old Town Bike Shop, said complaints about the tax were rare and came "only in the first few years. People realize that we have a significant trail network that we didn't have 20 years ago."
 
  Retailers collect the tax for the city without taking a cut, and they pay the proceeds in quarterly. Crandall said the bookkeeping is a "negligible hassle."
 
 From a business point of view as well as one of enriching the community, Crandall and other bicycle shop owners got behind the tax.
 
 As more commuters try to escape gasoline costs, the bikeway system is becoming much more than just recreational infrastructure.
   City transportation planner Kristin Bennett said, "We're on pace to build another 13 miles of bike lanes this year." Before long, there will be a tunnel for cyclists beneath Circle Drive as it intersects with Constitution Boulevard on the Rock Island Trail.
   As the bike trail system has evolved, the community's expectations for it have, too. Smart developers see bike trails as a marketing tool; pr
ospective homebuyers are more likely to ask about a property's proximity to trails.
 
  Undoubtedly, some bicycle buyers have failed to notice the $4 charge added to the bill. Those who have not purchased bicycles likely are unaware of the tax.
 
  Those are the signs of a modest, decent tax doing its job.

   Alas, to do something that simple, that sensible today would require an election costing tens of thousands of dollars. Backers of the idea would be publicly branded tax-and-spend liberals, when in fact they're just like the rest of us, pedaling as fast as they can.
   -
Contact Noreen at 636-0363 or noreen@gazette.com. He appears every other Friday on KoAA's Comcast Channel 9 at 4 p.m.
 
 
 
  
  
   
 

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