Arapahoe County Board unanimously approves resolution to extend open space sales and use tax
Voters will decide in November whether to continue countywide investment
On Tuesday, Aug. 10, the Arapahoe County Board of Commissioners (Board) unanimously agreed to place a ballot measure in the Nov. 2 election that will ask County voters to approve a permanent extension of the Open Space Sales and Use Tax, which has been in place since voters first approved it in 2003.
The one-quarter of one cent tax--or 25 cents for every $100--is levied on retail purchases within the County and dedicated solely to open space, parks, and trail purposes. The tax has generated nearly $360 million since 2004, and 71 percent of these funds have been given back to our cities, towns, and special districts in the form of grants, direct shareback and joint projects. The tax also helps advance the County’s Open Spaces Master Plan, which serves as a blueprint for the program’s future, identifying opportunities to conserve and enhance natural lands, wildlife habitats and water resources; address gaps in the County’s outdoor recreation network; and set priorities for educational programming and the stewardship of existing resources.
“The funding this tax created has allowed the County and our communities to develop and maintain first-rate outdoor recreation programs and assets,” said Arapahoe County Board Chair Nancy Jackson. “If our voters approve this reauthorization measure in November, we’ll be able to continue funding the many parks, trails, heritage areas and other projects that have become integral to the quality of life we enjoy throughout the County.”
Since the establishment of the County’s Open Spaces program, revenue from this tax has built or improved 70 miles of trails; supported 168 park, trailhead, and heritage-area projects; conserved 31,000 acres of open space; and invested more than $257 million in local open spaces, parks, trails and heritage areas.
With the current tax set to expire in 2023, Arapahoe County has been undertaking a reauthorization process to assess whether to reauthorize the tax and to determine what changes should be made to the program. County officials recently completed a series of events that sought and received substantial input from residents, businesses, municipalities, nonprofits, and special districts about the future of open spaces, parks, and trails within Arapahoe County.
Prior to conducting these events, the Board established a reauthorization committee to evaluate options regarding a potential sales tax extension, engaging the public and the County’s Open Space and Trails Citizen Advisory Board (OSTAB) to make recommendations to the Board for consideration. Feedback during these events and in recent polling indicated strong support for extending the sales and use tax.
“For the past 17-plus years, this sales tax has provided unprecedented financial means for our cities, towns and County to build and enhance all aspects of parks, trails and open space operations,” said OSTAB District 3 board member Grider Lee. “These permanent improvements require permanent maintenance, which is why extending this tax will help ensure these projects will continue to serve our residents and visitors while promoting the County’s overall image.”
The resolution referred to voters today includes the following key provisions:
• Establishes strict accountability standards for financial auditing, annual reporting of fund uses, and programmatic oversight by a citizen-appointed advisory board.
• Maintains a 50 percent shareback of funds directly to cities and towns, as these funds are critical to our communities in supporting local park and open space operations.
• Maintains grant program formula and eligibility requirements for municipalities and special recreation districts.
• Provides municipalities with flexibility to increase the amount of shareback funds available for local maintenance costs, subject to an intergovernmental agreement.
• Increases the percentage of tax funds available to Arapahoe County Government for maintenance from 3.24% to 9.9%.
• Reduces the percentage of tax funds available to the County for acquisition of open space and the development of trails from 26.66% to 20%.
• Makes the tax permanent, subject to repeal by voters, to have dedicated funding source to maintain, improve and enhance special places.
• Adds certain exceptions and modifications to the sales and use tax collection provisions to be consistent with current law.
• Allows unspent allocated funds to be reallocated within the Open Space program to address areas of need, with the requirement that such reallocation be reviewed by OSTAB and approved by the Board.
• Allows County open space sales and use tax funds to be allocated to active open space uses as recommended by OSTAB and approved by the Board.
For more information about the tax and the reauthorization process, visit our website. A copy of the resolution and referred ballot language also is available online.