Denver has no Trails, Parks and Open Space tax, but now it’s asking voters on the Nov. 6 ballot whether parks and rivers are worth their support.
The TOPS one penny tax per $10 purchase will generate almost $9 million this year to buy and steward open space and build trails and parks in the Springs. If Denver voters say yes, the tax of 2½ cents per $10 purchase would yield $45 million in its first year to pay for parks, trails and open space; develop, improve and maintain those amenities; restore and protect rivers, streams and other waterways; buy, plant and care for trees; and operate and maintain any related acquisitions and improvements.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock says the measure would increase city spending on parks by 63 percent a year and help whittle a $127 million backlog of parks repairs.
Proponents note that parks bring neighbors together and give them a sense of space. And the longer Denver waits to restore its parks, the more it will cost.
Lakewood and Chaffee and Eagle counties also are asking for new taxes or tax extensions to support parks.
Eagle County has a special property tax for open space and trails. Most cities and counties prefer increasing sales taxes so visitors pay much of the tax. In Denver, tourists are expected to pay 70 percent of the tax increase; Denver residents would pay 30 percent, or about $35 a year per household.
Denver generally beats Colorado Springs
In the annual Trust for Public Land ParkScore, Denver placed 26th among the top 100 cities this year. Colorado Springs was 46th. Tax support for parks per Denver resident already was $121. Here, it’s $81.
Passing TOPS in 1997 certainly put the Springs ahead of Denver in tapping into Great Outdoors Colorado for Lottery dollars and preserving land for Red Rock Open Space, Cheyenne Mountain State Park and expansion of Ute Valley Park, among other achievements. Without TOPS dollars, we might not have secured those favorites.
But if Denver’s initiative passes, the capital likely will compete more successfully for GOCO grants.
Denver parks supporters will tell you it took nearly 10 years and a better economy to get city leaders to support the parks tax. If Colorado Springs hopes to tackle a $180 million backlog of capital needs and repairs to parks, trails and open space, it better get busy.
Davies is executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition