Open Space Advocates position statement about a future TOPS ballot measure

To TOPS Stakeholders & Concerned Citizens: 

TOPS is our community’s Trails, Open Space and Parks sales tax, a funding mechanism which has been in place since 1997 and has purchased many of our community’s most valuable and iconic open space assets. TOPS was reaffirmed in 2003 and is currently scheduled to expire in 2025. 

We, the undersigned, wish to collaborate on a future TOPS initiative. We believe the TOPS program is integral to our quality of life in Colorado Springs. As advocates, we identified and supported several positive aspects of the November 2021 2C TOPS ballot. Yet we believe that on a fundamental level, 2C was incongruent with the core values originally approved by voters in 1997 and then reaffirmed in 2003. For 25 years, the strength of the TOPS program has been the acquisition of trails, parks, and especially of our unparalleled open spaces. 

We believe any future ballot measure should include specific wording that ensures the primary impact of TOPS will continue to be the acquisition of new open space. During 2021’s 2C campaign, TOPS’ primary impact was affirmed by the Parks Board 8-1 vote and Council’s referring resolution in favor of language that assured  open space acquisition. However, this  protection was not included in the final ballot language. Because of this, some open space leaders believed a “No” campaign was necessary. 

Looking forward to a future ballot measure: Organized opposition can be avoided by including ballot language addressing three critical points. These points are essential for broad community support of a successful TOPS renewal/expansion/extension measure. and can be leveraged to provide much needed increases in funding and flexibility for the Parks department. 

The following three items are of critical importance for a successful TOPS measure. If they can be addressed, we, the undersigned, will be pleased to publicly join city leadership in a campaign to re-energize our beloved TOPS program for future generations. There are many details related to a TOPS ballot initiative that are still to be determined, and we are prepared to bring forward our public support once these three items are addressed: 

  1. Ballot language protecting a minimum percent for Open Space acquisition and initial development of new Open Space, separate from maintenance, & stewardship: This point addresses the most significant shortcoming of the 2021 2C ballot, and we consider it essential to support a future campaign. The lack of a minimum amount for OS acquisition within the ballot language was the main reason many open space advocates rejected 2C.
  2. Maintenance of effort: General fund support for Parks operations was slashed in 2009 and has still not returned to adequate funding levels. To be successful, a future TOPS ballot that provides an increase in operations funding must NOT be offset by decreases in general fund support. 
  3. Simplified ballot language: The complexity and length of 2C’s ballot language confused voters, hurt the campaign, and troubled TOPS advocates. We suggest that simpler language that still meets all legal requirements should be developed for a future ballot.

Endorsed by: 

Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates Board of Directors

Kent Obee

Scot Hume

Bruce Hamilton

Linda Hodges

Ruth Obee

Jim Lockhart

Lee Milner

John Spengler

Judith Rice-Jones

Ian Kalmanowitz

Kathy Meinig