A group working to find a long-term funding solution for park maintenance in El Paso County is moving forward with a plan to ask voters to approve a regional service authority in November.
Members of the Sustainable Parks Initiative have talked with George K. Baum & Co. in recent weeks to do a poll in late January “to test the viability” of placing the proposal on the November ballot, Bill Koerner, advocacy director for the Trails and Open Space Coalition, said Wednesday in an e-mail to city and county officials and others.
The poll will cost between $20,000 and $25,000, and a “basic election campaign” would cost at least $180,000 to $230,000, according to the e-mail and minutes from the group’s Dec. 9 meeting, which The Gazette obtained today.
(The minutes of the meeting are posted below.)
Koerner could not be reached for comment.
But the minutes of the meeting state that the group is considering a sunset provision to the proposed regional service authority.
“Some attendees argued a sunset was unfair to park staff. Others argued it is something voters now demand. The suggestion was made to ‘stagger’ the sunset and another suggestion was to allow the property tax to expire but maintain the sales tax (or vice versa). Most agreed the sunset should be at least 15 years in length,” the documents state.
The proposed creation of a regional service authority to address what the group calls “the ongoing deterioration of our city and county park systems” comes at time when supporters of public transportation are also pushing for a regional transit district.
“Our expectation is that (a looming transportation study) will culminate in some kind of a ballot initiative in 2010,” Steven Saint, chairman of the Green Cities Coalition of the Pikes Peak Region, said recently.
“The whole county needs it, plus maybe even links to Teller County and Douglas County if we go into Castle Rock,” he said.
“If you look at things from a transit point of view, the need is regional,” he said. “It’s bigger than the city of Colorado Springs. It’s even bigger than the county of El Paso.”
The biggest challenge, he said, will be funding.
“Right now, the system is being paid for largely by sales tax, either though the (Regional Transportation Authority) tax or the city general fund,” Saint said. “There’s other ways to fund a transit district, and we’re exploring all those as well. For instance, there might be a mill levy increase, maybe one mill to every property owner from Castle Rock to Fountain. That might generate the funds to do it, and we wouldn’t need to bother with sales tax.”
Minutes for Sustainable Parks Initiative Meeting
December 9, 2009 at the Bear Creek Nature Center SD, BK
Note: In parentheses are comments that address the questions not answered at the meeting.
Bill Koerner, Advocacy Director for Trails and Open Space Coalition, presented a power point explanation of the Regional Service Authority. He briefly explained why the SPI subcommittee was recommending pursuing a RSA and disadvantages of trying to form a traditional parks special district. The main disadvantage of a traditional special district is the ability for jurisdictions and property owners to “opt out.” Special Districts also require property tax as its funding mechanism. Some of the advantages of an RSA: There is no opt out, it might be easier to use a sales tax as a funding mechanism, and it was designed to encompass an entire county. Also to get an RSA on the ballot would only require @7,000 signatures which would then be turned over to a district court.
Some of the questions raised during and after the presentation:
1. Would the new RSA 15 member elected board be paid? Answer: Board members could possibly be paid, but would likely only receive money to cover expenses.
2. What would happen to entities currently receiving conservation trust money? Answer: This has to be worked out. (Comment: The RSA would work with the entities and the Special Districts and reach some agreement on services and money transfers, which would be formalized using Intergovernmental Agreements). The subcommittee goal would be to restore the conservation trust funds to their original purpose, which is to fund capital projects rather than maintenance. New funding would be used for maintenance and operations.
3. How would existing special districts with parks be handled? Answer: The RSA would work with individual special districts and agree what services the RSA would provide, if any. IGA’s would be used to formalize this.
4. Would there be different tiers of mill levy to reflect differences between the cities, county and special districts already paying for parks? Answer: That would have to be worked out between the RSA and the special district and formalized in an IGA.
5. How much money would need to be raised with the sales tax/property mill levy. Answer: Still to be determined but in the range of $24M less the amount of user fees, etc. the RSA would be able to collect.
6. How much money could user fees generate? Answer: Conceivably 30-40% of total revenue based on current City collection percentages.
7. What will the campaign cost? Answer: The basic election campaign cost was estimated at between $180,000 – 230,000. (Note: This does not include the pre-campaign costs) This also does not include costs paid to the county for getting the RSA on the ballot. There was some confusion as to what the campaign committee will be asked to pay to the county to get RSA related ballot questions on the November ballot. Tim Wolken said he would study that question.
As there is only one other RSA in Colorado, many questions raised at the meeting will require further study.
Kyle Blakeley explained his plan to begin polling in January. He will try to determine how those polled feel about parks. He will also test the idea of the RSA and what type of funding mechanism has the best chance of winning.
There were questions concerning the complexity of combining county and city park personnel and assets. Paul Butcher said there would be many details to be worked out, but it could be done through intergovernmental agreements.
Attendees expressed concern about the complexity of the RSA and how it would translate in a campaign and on the ballot. Another concern is plans to include a sunset provision. Some attendees argued a sunset was unfair to park staff. Others argued it is something voters now demand. The suggestion was made to “stagger” the sunset and another suggestion was to allow the property tax to expire but maintain the sales tax (or vice versa). Most agreed the sunset should be at least 15 years in length.
New attendees were asked to comment on plans to go ahead with the RSA.
They said they supported the concept but anticipated major hurdles to reach success. Others said it was important to simplify the message to voters.
The idea of capping administration costs was generally supported.
Council member Randy Purvis said it was time to “put the show on the road.” He encouraged the group to begin making presentations and getting elected officials in municipalities and at the county level on board. He encouraged spending one on one time with policy-makers to clear up confusion and allow them to air concerns. Other groups of major importance, Chamber of Commerce, Home Builders Association and Board of Realtors. Most concurred that early polling will shape the funding source and indicate what people are willing to pay. Polling should also reveal what voters see as “core services” they are willing to support. On a final vote, support for the RSA was unanimous with the 20+ attendees.”