Court ruling kills Section 16 grant plea

       A judge's ruling to nullify Colorado Springs' open-space sales tax extension will force Colorado Springs Parks to withdraw its grant request to buy Section 16.
       In addition, Terry Putman, manager of the Tops, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) program, said the ruling will “cut back” the city's construction of neighborhood parks (such as the one that's been planned for years on Lower Gold Camp Road.
       The decision by District Judge Robert Lowery, announced Aug. 23, will not slow development of Red Rock Canyon, Putman said.
       At issue was whether the tax - a tenth of a cent on the dollar - was extended legally when voters approved it by a two-thirds margin in April 2003. Judge Lowery agreed with tax crusader Douglas Bruce, who had complained to the court that the city failed to abide by the state Taxpayers' Bill of Rights (TABOR) law, which applies to any proposed tax increase.
       City officials had claimed that as a tax extension, it was not an increase and thus did not have to follow TABOR - including its requirements for pro-con comments to registered voters and, on the ballot itself, calling it a tax increase and defining its financial implications.
       The tax was originally approved in 1997 to run through 2009. The election was to extend it to 2025.
       “In 2010, if the ballot issue passed, people would pay higher taxes than if it failed,” Bruce told the Westside Pioneer. “That makes it an increase.”
       He said the city did not talk to him about potential TABOR applicability before writing the ballot question. He also said that the city of Denver, when asking voters to extend a stadium tax in recent years, did correctly identify its request as a tax increase.
       City officials are mulling what to do next. An appeal of Judge Lowery's decision is possible, as long as it is filed within 45 days. Also under consideration is a new election, presumably framed in keeping with the TABOR “tax increase” wording rules.
       “We're reeling from this,” Putman told the Pioneer Aug. 23, in noting that he could not provide extensive details yet on all the parks projects that TOPS can or cannot fund in the wake of the decision. He did confirm his pre-ruling statement, that an adverse court ruling would stop the Section 16 grant request (submitted this month). The city is leasing the property this year in a temporary agreement with the State Land Board, which owns it. However, the state has indicated a desire to sell the 640-acre, undeveloped property, located just north of Red Rock Canyon and adjacent to Forest Service and county park land. “I don't know if the state will want to keep leasing it,” Putman said.
       The hope had been to purchase the property, in conjunction with a county contribution and a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO).
       Red Rock Canyon is unaffected for now, because, having been purchased last year through TOPS, it is also eligible for maintenance money from a percentage of that source through 2009. As far as initial construction and getting the park opened to the public, the city can use part of a $1 million Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) grant related to the purchase, Putman said.

Westside Pioneer Article