AURORA VOTE 2021: 1A — County wants to make open space program, tax permanent

Daniel Sprick makes a plenair painting on the High Line Canal Trail while waiting for his mechanic to finish with his car on July 30, 2015 in Aurora, CO. (Photo by Trevor L Davis/Aurora Sentinel)

AURORA | Arapahoe County Commissioners say residents in the region like their wide open spaces, and they’re asking residents to make permanent an existing sales tax to enhance and preserve a variety of parks, trails and preserves. 

The five-person board earlier this summer unanimously agreed to ask voters to extend a tax that charges residents a quarter of a penny on retail purchases made within Aurora’s largest county. First approved by voters in 2003, the tax benefits the maintenance and creation of the county’s 70 miles of trails, 168 parks and 31,000 acres of open space. 

The tax has netted about $360 million since it was first levied in 2004. Following a re-authorization by voters in 2011, it is currently set to expire in 2023. 

The question on this year’s ballot asks voters to approve the tax in perpetuity. It could only be axed following an additional vote of the people. 

The referred measure wouldn’t increase the current tax, but it would slightly rejigger certain allocations, bumping the percentage of dollars available for maintenance and reducing the pot available for the purchase of new space and trail creation. Half of the tax dollars would remain shared with the county’s various cities and towns. 

“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,” Arapahoe County Board Chair Nancy Jackson said in a statement earlier this year. 

Commissioners have said that nearly three quarters of the current sales tax funds funnel back to the county’s dozen municipalities. Aurora, the jurisdiction’s largest municipality by leaps and bounds, has received some $116 million in economic stimulus from the tax over the years, according to county calculations. 

“1A is a proactive measure that brings long-term thinking to Arapahoe County’s future and pro- vides a permanent fix to support our open spaces by placing the reauthorization on the ballot,” the commissioners wrote in a joint statement published in The Sentinel last week.

Last year, voters in Adams County overwhelmingly approved a nearly identical ballot question that indefinitely prolonged a quarter of a penny sales tax for open spaces in the north Aurora jurisdiction. More than 82% of voters gave that question the thumbs up at the polls, according to Adams County election results. 

An issue committee organized in Arapahoe County in support of the proposal dubbed “Preserve Arapahoe’s Open Spaces” has yet to file a campaign finance report with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, records show. The group’s first accounting of expenses is due on Oct. 12. 

There are no groups currently registered in Arapahoe County to oppose the effort. 

A similar but unrelated measure in a special district that encompasses a large chunk of Centennial along Aurora’s southern border is asking voters to prolong an existing mill levy for additional maintenance of trails and parks. The 2.14 mill levy was originally used to help finance the construction of the Trails Recreation Center and skate park on East Lake Avenue in Centennial.