Parker residents debate proposed tax increase

Ballot issue 2A would increase tax to pay for rec improvements, open space

Posted 10/20/15

With a looming proposal to increase the sales tax rate in Parker, supporters and opponents are trying to get last-minute messages to voters.

The Town of Parker is asking residents to decide Nov. 3 whether to increase the sales and use tax by 0.5 …

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Parker residents debate proposed tax increase

Ballot issue 2A would increase tax to pay for rec improvements, open space

Posted

With a looming proposal to increase the sales tax rate in Parker, supporters and opponents are trying to get last-minute messages to voters.

The Town of Parker is asking residents to decide Nov. 3 whether to increase the sales and use tax by 0.5 percent to pay for the expansion of parks and recreational amenities and the acquisition of open space. The rate would go from 8 percent to 8.5 percent, including town, county and state taxes.

The question asks whether the Town of Parker should go into debt by issuing $39 million worth of bonds to pay for new amenities today, while simultaneously implementing the parks-and-rec-specific tax increase to pay off the bonds.

Along with an expansion at Salisbury Park, the tax increase would pay for the enlargement of H2O’Brien Pool, a park expansion at O’Brien Park, open space and new trails.

(How will you vote? Take the poll here.)

Mayor Mike Waid has said the town prefers to stay ahead of the game for amenities to accommodate a growing population, but that the decision to put the tax increase on the ballot was largely driven by demand from residents.

Parker resident Lily Tang Williams, chairwoman of the Libertarian Party of Colorado, says taxpayers should not be saddled with more debt and believes the town should use existing tax revenues if it wants to expand its recreation offerings.

“When governments want to tax more, the elected officials and special interests always make it sound like a great deal that you cannot pass up. They never cut spending and save for what they want,” she wrote in an open letter.

The additional tax amounts to 5 cents on a $10 purchase.

John Sutherland, a Parker resident for 17 years, says he is troubled by the idea that there is no sunset clause for the tax increase, meaning it will remain forever. But proponents say the tax is needed in perpetuity to maintain the new amenities.

Kristy Thomas, administrator for Parker Youth Sports, which runs the Hawks athletic clubs, said more athletic fields are desperately needed and stressed the importance of preserving open space now. Thomas is a member of Citizens for Parker, a loose-knit group of supporters who have been handing out information to parents at youth sports games and local festivals. Thomas said the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive in favor of 2A.

But Sutherland says the ballot issue is the latest example of reckless spending by the town. He cited the $2 million purchase of land across from town hall, for which a reason was not given before council’s vote. The land is being leased to Douglas County Libraries to build the new Parker Library. Sutherland also pointed to the $900,000 spent on the former Parker Water and Sanitation District headquarters in downtown Parker as another example of town officials overstepping their bounds and “getting into land development.” The town’s economic development department is housed in the building, but there are plans to eventually sell the building and land for redevelopment.

“The current mayor and town council seem to have a spending problem and it is getting out of control. They need to learn to live within their budget and quit running up debt just to make certain small groups happy,” Sutherland said.

But Thomas says that improved recreation, parks and open space benefits everyone in the town and provides something for everyone, whether it’s families going to a park, young singles running on local trails, or seniors playing on new pickleball courts. She also said world-class recreation and open space increases home values and is the reason why many residents moved to Parker.

The Town of Parker is in the bottom third for tax rates among communities in the Denver area. It has an existing half-percent tax for parks and recreation — a measure that passed in the early 1990s — but population growth is prompting the newest request.

“The money we have now is to maintain what we have, but we don’t have the money to build more,” Thomas said.

When outlining information about the ballot issue on its website, the town says, “If the referendum does not pass, future park and recreation projects will take longer to complete. For example, instead of developing Salisbury Park North immediately, it would likely be built in several phases over a number of years.”

The “immediate gratification” of new recreation features is not worth the projected $27 million in interest on the bonds that the town would incur, Sutherland said. And some say a new tax that does not sunset could create a burden on taxpayers.

“A rising tax trend continues at all levels of government and it stifles economic growth and consumer spending,” Tang Williams said.

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