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El Paso voters approve use of TABOR funds for park and infrastructure projects

November 7, 2017 Updated: November 8, 2017 at 8:14 am
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photo - The Hansen Trailhead area on October 4, 2017 in Fountain, Colorado. The site, which has been destroyed by erosion since floods inundated the county in 2015, is one of six other flood-damaged spots that will be repaired if county voters approve a ballot measure in November. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette.)
The Hansen Trailhead area on October 4, 2017 in Fountain, Colorado. The site, which has been destroyed by erosion since floods inundated the county in 2015, is one of six other flood-damaged spots that will be repaired if county voters approve a ballot measure in November. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette.)  

A ballot measure allowing El Paso County to spend about $14.5 million in excess revenues on park and infrastructure projects passed with sweeping success Tuesday night, with more than 90 percent of votes counted, unofficial results showed.

About 67 percent of voters, or 95,913, had approved the measure, and 47,269 had rejected it as of 10 p.m., according to the Clerk and Recorder's Office.

Its passage marked a win for the county, which has said the measure is necessary to avoid budget cuts and pay for sorely-needed improvements to public spaces.

It was also a step forward for the widening of the Interstate 25 "Gap" from Monument to Castle Rock, which is to receive at least $6 million of the excess and $10 million in regional transportation tax revenues from another ballot measure that passed Tuesday night. Other state, federal and local funding sources also are being considered for the $350 million project, which would widen the interstate to six lanes by adding one toll lane in each direction.

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"This shows us the citizens of El Paso County have faith in us to take care of their money and do things responsibly," County Commissioner Mark Waller said while raising a glass of champagne at an election watch party at Duca's Neapolitan Pizza at The Antlers hotel.

The Colorado Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, or TABOR, ties increases in some government revenue to a formula based on population growth and inflation. If a government's annual revenue exceeds the TABOR limit, the surplus must be returned to taxpayers or used for voter-approved purposes.

If the measure hadn't passed, property owners would have been refunded with tax credits, such as a $40 credit for the owner of a $250,000 home.

Issue 1A also will allow the county to readjust its current TABOR revenue cap, from about $330 million to about $345 million, to reflect actual government revenues in 2017. As always, next year's limit will be calculated by plugging this year's cap into the TABOR-mandated formula.

County officials say the one-time boost will allow the government to recover from the Great Recession in step with the rest of the economy and begin to address a backlog of more than $200 million in deferred maintenance costs it racked up during the economic downturn.

"Our community is clearly growing population-wise, and we've had some dramatic wins in terms of economic development. We couldn't afford to have El Paso County fall further and further behind in services and infrastructure," said county spokesman Dave Rose.

Opponents of the measure, including TABOR author Douglas Bruce, have argued it will ultimately increase the financial burden on taxpayers by about $15 million annually because they would otherwise be reimbursed the money.

Up to $6 million of the TABOR surplus will be spent on other roadway and safety improvements to thoroughfares and intersections, including South Academy Boulevard, Marksheffel Road and Meadowbrook Parkway, and Chipita Park Road and U.S. 24.

About $1 million would become a local match for about $3 million in federal disaster relief funds needed for repairs to the Fountain Creek Regional Trail system and New Sante Fe Regional Trail, leftover from flooding in 2015. County parks would benefit from the remaining $1.5 million.

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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