Colorado Springs TOPS program
What is TOPS and what does it do?
Initially passed as a citizen’s initiative in 1997, renewed in 2003, revamped in 2013 and currently scheduled to sunset in 2025, the TOPS (Trails, Open spaces and Parks) program might be the most popular and successful tax measure in the history of Colorado Springs. TOPS is a 0.1% city sales and use tax that today raises about $12M/yr. The ordinance specifies that 3% of the fund be used for administration, 6% for maintenance and operations of any TOPS property, and the remaining 91% is allocated 60% for Open Space, 20% for Parks and 20% for Trails. Budgets proposed for the TOPS program receive citizen input through the TOPS working committee, and are subject to regular audits to ensure compliance with the ordinance.
Since TOPS was first approved by voters in 1997, over 7,500 acres of open space has been acquired, 67 parks have been built or improved, and more than 53 miles of trail have been constructed with TOPS funding. To learn more, please visit the city’s website or check out this storymap created by former MedWheel board member Mike Rigney.
Since the beginning, the 20% Trails category has been used for regional and urban trails, not singletrack. Singletrack, when funded by TOPS, has almost always been supported from the 60% Open Space category. In addition to acquiring new open spaces, master planning processes, trailheads (including parking lots and bathrooms) and trail construction are typically funded from the OS category.
Specific TOPS projects that our members appreciate most:
Red Rock Canyon OS including construction of several trails including Lion Trail. Stratton OS. Austin Bluffs OS. Half of Ute Valley Park (the HP side). PikeView quarry frontage property – will link up with Blodgett OS, with the quarry itself still slated to be donated to the city and turned into a world class bike park, following remediation over the next 3-5 years. Black Canyon quarry – slated to become a new trailhead for the Williams & Waldo area after remediation (timeframe not yet determined). Shooks Run, Sand Creek Trails. Union Meadows. BlueStem Prairie OS. El Pomar Youth Bike Park at Hillside gardens.
MedWheel involvement with TOPS
MedWheel staff and volunteers are frequently involved with TOPS discussions. We attend most monthly TOPS working committee meetings and advocate for more and better trails on behalf of our members. In November 2021, issue 2c was proposed to extend, expand and change TOPS. Our board raised concerns with the wording of 2c but eventually supported the measure, see our statement here. When measure 2C failed, MedWheel brought together many of the voices that opposed the measure, and negotiated with CS Mayor Suthers and other city leaders to improve the language to include additional safeguards within the OS category, so that a minimum of 75% of that category must be used for acquiring new open spaces. Our concern, and that of many long time TOPS advocates, was that without such a safeguard, over the next 20 years there would be too much temptation to convert TOPS into a maintenance and operations fund. To be clear – we fully support funding for maintenance and operations of our Parks system, but we suggest that other sources should be used for this, not just TOPS. Specifically we suggest increased allocations from the city’s General Fund to support these needs.
We are beyond pleased to report that our negotiations were successful, and Issue 1 on the April 2023 ballot is a TOPS extension measure that contains these safeguards to ensure that over the next 20 years, TOPS will continue to have the power to purchase and protect new open spaces, providing places for new trails that will serve our growing community. Please see the language and a list of supporters here.