Colorado Springs voters will decide in November whether the city can extend the 2015 sales tax increase for road improvements and if it can spend $7 million of excess tax revenue on parks rather than refunding the money, as required by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.
The council approved the measures this month for the Nov. 5 ballot.
In a 2-1 resounding victory in 2015, voters approved Ballot Issue 2C to increase the sales tax by 6.2 cents on every $10 purchase. The five-year program was to raise $50 million a year, $250 million in all. The average annual roads maintenance budget is $70 million, including the $50 million extra from 2C.
The proposed new five-year sales tax increase is lower, 5.7 cents on every $10 spent, but likely will yield more revenue because of the city’s strong economy and business growth, said Travis Easton, public works director.
Easton told the City Council last month that his office has seen 93% fewer claims by drivers seeking reimbursement after potholes caused damage to their vehicles. Pothole complaints have dropped 48% since 2015, he said.
The new tax increase would pay to improve 884 lane miles. The original one has funded 1,066 lane miles. Together, the two would fund improvements on 33% of the city’s roads, city officials said.
Council members said they were pleased with the progress made through the 2015 tax increase and were optimistic that a renewal would bolster road improvements.
“I believe we have done what we promised, and I believe that we will continue to do that,” said Councilman Wayne Williams.
The council unanimously agreed to put that proposal on the ballot.
But the question of letting voters decide whether the city can keep $7 million for parks passed 7-2, with Councilmen Don Knight and Andy Pico opposed.
The largest chunk of the money — $2 million — would be spent at the city’s historic parks: Antlers, Acacia and Alamo Square/Pioneers Museum. The city said it has major plans for all three, including better lighting and accessibility.
The city has allotted $1 million for pond and pavilion restorations and lighting improvements at Monument Valley Park, $1 million for work on the Homestead, Mesa and Sand Creek trails and $1.4 million to convert three baseball fields to turf at Cottonwood Creek Community Park.
Other projects would be done at Palmer, Boulder, Thorndale and Panorama Parks, the Leon Bridge Sports Complex and the city’s cemeteries.
The parks work is being touted as part of the city’s 150th birthday celebration to honor the legacy of the city’s founder, Gen. William Jackson Palmer.
Voters must approve any tax increase and agree before a government can keep excess tax revenue. Those are provisions of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, which passed statewide in 1992.
If voters don’t let the city keep the money, the average household would get a refund of about $30, delivered on utility bills, said Chief Financial Officer Charae McDaniel.
Pico said he prefers that park improvement projects be funded by the city’s budget.
“We have gone to the voters on quite a number of occasions,” he said. “I think we’ve done enough of this, and I think these efforts should be rolled into the regular budgetary process.”
Voters also could decide on a City Charter revision to change the approval process for transferring ownership of park property, if the city decides to pursue it.
After a lengthy discussion, the council approved two measures. One would have voters decide whether the city should trade or sell parks parcels. The other would require a six-member council supermajority to approve such a transaction.
City Attorney Wynetta Massey said the city had never put two items on the same issue in an election. She suggested that if voters approved both, the city would have to determine which parts were consistent and which were conflicting.
Willliams said two similar measures pass on the same ballot “all the time in the state of Colorado.”
Although the council did approve both park transfer measures, they’ll require another vote for final approval. Council President Richard Skorman said he first would like more information from the city attorney’s office on how the process might work.
The council also considered a measure to relax its timeline to choose the council president after each election. Williams left before the vote, which came to a 4-4 tie. Skorman suggested the council revisit the issue when everyone is present.