City Council refers Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) sales and use tax question to November ballot
August 11, 2021 by Jennifer Peterson
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The Colorado Springs City Council today unanimously approved on a 9-0 vote a question for the November ballot seeking approval from Colorado Springs voters on a 20-year extension of the Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) sales and use tax through 2041 and increasing the current 0.1 percent rate to 0.2 percent or 2 pennies on a $10 purchase. TOPS is a dedicated sales and use tax for acquiring, developing and maintaining trails, open spaces and parks that is currently set to expire in 2025 as approved by voters in 2003. This would be the first increase to the sales tax since it was first passed by voters in 1997.
In 2013, voters expanded the use of TOPS funding to include the maintenance and development of all city parks, regardless of how acquired. The ballot question further expands the use of TOPS revenues to include maintenance and development of all city trails and open spaces, rather than just trail and open space properties acquired by TOPS. The question also seeks voter approval on reallocating the TOPS expenditure categories, and City Council added a new section to the referring resolution that states its intent that at least 75 percent of the open space category will be used for the acquisition and development of open space land.
Voters will see this question in the Nov. 2, 2021 Special Municipal Election, run in coordination with the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder. The approved ballot language is as follows:
Shall City taxes be increased $11,134,000 annually beginning Jan. 1, 2022, and by whatever amounts are raised in years thereafter, by increasing the rate of sales and use tax dedicated to trails, open space and parks (TOPS) from its current rate of 0.1% (one tenth of a cent) or 1 penny on every $10 purchase, to 0.2% (two tenths of a cent), or 2 cents on every $10 purchase, except for purchases of prescription drugs, food and other purchases exempted from sales tax, without changing the purposes, which include:
- Preserving fragile ecosystems, natural areas, scenic vistas and areas, fish and wildlife habitats and corridors, and important areas that support biodiversity, natural resources and landmarks;
- Conserving natural resources, such as water aquifer recharge areas, surface water and forest lands;
- Acquiring, developing and maintaining open space lands and trails; and
- Acquiring, developing and maintaining parks.
With all expenditures based on recommendations of an advisory committee and subject to independent audit; with no more than 5 percent of revenues derived to be used for administration, planning and program management, and no more than 25 percent for maintenance and operations of all city parks, trails and open space lands, and the remaining revenue divided into 40 percent used for acquisition, development and maintenance of all parks, 30 percent for acquisition, development and maintenance of all trails, and 30 percent for acquisition, development and maintenance of all open space lands, regardless of how acquired; and with the intent of the voters that monies derived from the increase should not offset expenditures from the general fund; and extending the expiration of the TOPS sales and use tax to and until Dec. 31, 2041; the above constituting a over-approved revenue change and exception to any constitutional, statutory and charter revenue and spending limitations that may otherwise apply?
Over the last 24 years, the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department has acquired more than 7,100 acres of open space, built more than 25 parks, contributed to the improvement of 41 parks and constructed 50 miles of trail with TOPS funding. Among the properties acquired and/or built by TOPS are Bluestem Prairie Open Space, Corral Bluffs Open Space, Cottonwood Creek Trail, Gold Camp Park, John Venezia Park, Laura Gilpin Park, Legacy Loop, Panorama Park, Red Rock Canyon Open Space, Stratton Open Space and Ute Valley Park. For more information on the history and impact of TOPS, visit ColoradoSprings.gov/TOPS.
Media note: A photo of Bluestem Prairie Open Space is attached for your use (credit: City of Colorado Springs).