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Group pushes for tax initiative for parks

Would you vote for a tax increase if the money was dedicated specifically to parks? That's the question that a group calling themselves Great Parks Great Communities wants to put before voters this fall.

They announced plans Tuesday to ask El Paso County Commissioners to put a measure on the ballot that would collect 15 cents out of every $100 spent.

The Trails and Open Space Coalition has been leading the initiative and director Susan Davies says a dedicated tax is necessary because of recent budget cuts. In 2008 alone, the El Paso County Parks budget fell from $2.4 million to $600,000 per year.

"Ninety-five cents per person per year is all the portion of your taxes that goes to support your county parks," Davies said.

She compares this initiative to the Pikes Peak Rural Transit Authority and the Pikes Peak Library District both of which collect dedicated taxes.

News First 5 called the county commissioners to see whether they vote put the issue on the ballot, but they all said they wanted to see the wording first.

Davies says their polls suggest that the community supports the initiative. Last month the group hired Public Opinion Strategies to conduct a poll which found that 59 percent of voters in El Paso County would support a sales tax increase a 1/10th of one percent while 38 percent would oppose it.

The survey also found that 53 percent said they would vote for a 1/4th of one percent increase while 45 percent would oppose it.

"We asked the voters ... would you put a penny on 10 dollars toward parks maintenance or maybe two and half pennies and they told us yes, so we're going forward," Davies said.

We spoke with people at Bear Creek Dog Park to see how they felt about the issue. Scott Zinolli said he would vote for it, "providing it's not too much to hurt people right now because the economy is bad for everybody not just the government."

Jennifer Anderson said she, too, would vote yes. "I mean it's really not that much," Anderson said.

Brenda Adams said she wouldn't vote for it. "Everybody's working hard to make ends meet now," Adams said. "Even if we find there's an importance for the parks to get improved, it's hard to want to put more out there to do that."

Val Samuelson said she would support the measure. "Our parks are important and I know there's been a lot of budget cuts and so we're seeing that in our parks when you don't have even trash cans or restrooms to use."

Viola Ward says she would vote no. "There are certain things that we might need, but a lot of things have already been taken care of properly," Ward said.

Jane Morriss says she would support the initiative too, especially if it meant improvements would be made such as having lights installed at the parks.

A final decision is still several months away. The county commissioners must approve putting the measure it on the ballot and before voters would get to decide in November.

Davies says her group could petition to put the measure on the ballot, but that would mean the money could not be designated specifically for parks.

"Unless you are willing to let the sales tax just go wherever, but if you want sales tax used for park maintenance you cannot petition it," Davies said. "You have to have the commissioners support."