Early results in Tuesday night's election show voters have rejected a ballot question that would have allowed El Paso County to use $15 million in excess government revenues to pay for road infrastructure and deferred parks maintenance projects. 

The measure failed to pass, according to early returns, with 60,985 voters — nearly 55% — rejecting the question and 50,812 — about 45% — voting in favor.

The county will refund the money to residents through property tax credits. The owner of a $350,000 single-family home will receive a one-time tax credit of about $20, County Controller Nikki Simmons has said.

El Paso County would have used $13 million of the surplus funds to pay for backlogged roadway improvements, including paving and repairing potholes on roads throughout the county, and $2 million to fund deferred parks projects such as capital improvements, trail preservation and wildfire mitigation at Bear Creek Park, Paint Mines Interpretive Park, Fountain Creek Regional Trail, Ute Pass Regional Trail, The Pineries Open Space and Fox Run Park, including a northern nature center.

Colorado's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights calculates increases in most local government revenues via a formula based on population growth and inflation. Excesses can only be used for voter-approved purposes.

Proponents of the measure have argued the funds are sorely needed to address aging road infrastructure and restore local parks — facilities large numbers of county residents regularly use, they said — and the measure would have done so without raising taxes.

El Paso County Public Works Executive Director Kevin Mastin told county commissioners this summer that explosive growth in the community is increasing traffic on local roads, deteriorating them faster, as are “unique” environmental conditions.

“We live in a place where we could have snowstorms and ice one day, then two days later bright sunshine,” Mastin has previously said. “If you have cracks in your road, that moisture is going to get in those cracks and deteriorate the road surface.”

A Public Works report released in August detailing county road conditions showed more than 60% of El Paso County's paved roads and 45% of its rural roads are in poor shape or need reconstructing.

Trails and Open Space Coalition Executive Director Susan Davies has previously said the $2 million that would have been used for parks would have offset inflated parks maintenance, staffing and materials costs.

“That $2 million will go so much farther than just $2 million,” Davies told commissioners during discussions on the ballot question in August.

Opponents including Commissioner Carrie Geitner said federal economic stimulus funds coming to the county to help it recover from the pandemic have “artificially” boosted the local economy. She argued approving the measure would have deprived residents of the money they are legally owed, even though it did not ask for a tax increase, and many are still struggling financially because of the pandemic.

Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez this summer said it was difficult for him to support a TABOR ballot question to fund road projects when a project in his district at Fountain Mesa Road and Caballero Avenue — approved when voters last passed a tax retention question in 2017 to fund road projects — had, at the time, not yet broken ground.

Construction on the project, which will convert the intersection to a four-way stop, began Monday, according to the project website.

Voters on Tuesday also denied raising El Paso County's revenue cap to reflect actual 2021 revenue. It would have increased the limit from $285 million to about $300 million.

Most of the county’s excess revenues this year come from increased sales tax collections, but economic stimulus funds allocated to El Paso County during the pandemic and small business funding, public safety grants, highway user taxes and state-allocated money for county programs have all put the county over the legal limit, Simmons previously said.

El Paso County will also refund $7.1 million in excess 2020 revenues to residents through property taxes, money residents would have received regardless of how residents voted on the measure.

Reporter

Breeanna Jent covers El Paso County government. She previously worked as the editorial assistant for the Pikes Peak Newspapers and joined their sister paper, The Gazette, in 2020.

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