Survey chance on regional parks idea

       People can weigh in on the local parks funding problem by filling out an informal online survey.
       It's part of a continuing effort by the nonprofit Trails and Open Space Coalition (TOSC) to create a regional answer to a situation in which budget shortfalls have led both Colorado Springs and El Paso County to cut their parks budgets drastically.
       The survey can be accessed at It has a total of 16 questions, with the goal of finding out whether respondents support any of three regional government models and “a new, dedicated tax to fund it.” A comment box is also provided.
       Through the middle of last week, Bill Koerner, TOSC advocacy director, said that about 500 people had filled out the recently posted survey. The plan is to keep it up until the end of March, then follow it up with other surveys so as to “continually engage people in the process and let them know what's going on,” he said.
       So far, Koerner conceded that the results might be a little skewed because the word has been spread about it chiefly among people who are supportive of TOSC. But he added that he would like to get feedback from all sides, including those who are opposed to the idea of new taxes. “We would like to get as broad a cross-section as we can,” he said.
       The survey is informal in that there are no safeguards against the same people submitting numerous surveys, and not all the information needs to be filled out. Those without Internet access can call TOSC at 633-6884 or drop by its office on the Westside at 1040 S. Eighth St.
       The three regional government models being considered are:
  • A regional service agency (RSA), which would be governed by 15 elected people and contract with local governments for services using intergovernmental agreements (IGAs).
  • A legislative district, which would require legal formation of a special district and would tentatively be overseen by a mix of elected citizens and elected officials from member governments.
  • A “TOPS 2” model, in which the city and county would retain their parks departments, and the newly dedicated tax revenue would be “distributed based on population between Colorado Springs, unincorporated El Paso County and small cities” in the county.
           TOSC is keeping an open mind about public issues and concerns, but in the meantime is moving forward with all three models on the table, with the expectation that one of the three will gain favor and go before the voters in the county election of 2011, Koerner summarized.
           The TOSC thinking is that something needs to be done to keep area parks from deteriorating. A slide show Koerner presented to City Council Feb. 22 showed that “general fund support has been reduced 84 percent for Colorado Springs from 2008 to 2010 and 89 percent for El Paso County from 2004 to 2010 [and] it's going to get worse before it gets better.”
           City Council reaction to Koerner's presentation was mixed, with concern expressed about a new tax and the wisdom of the RSA model, which gives an independently elected citizens group control over valuable assets that are owned by entities they don't formally represent.

    Westside Pioneer article