Denver resident Kendall Bingenheimer is crawling on the grass near the Cheesman Park playground with her infant daughter. They come here almost every day, using the infant swing, then moving to the grass when it’s time to crawl — the woodchips surrounding the playground aren’t soft enough for little knees and hands.
Although she enjoys the park, she’d like to see softer groundcover around playsets and more options for infants like her daughter.
“Why wouldn’t we want better parks or closer parks?” Bingenheimer said.
A ballot measure recently approved by Denver City Council would work to do just that by expanding and revitalizing Denver’s parks. The measure, which voters will decide in November, asks voters to approve a .25 percent increase in the city sales tax to pay for park improvements.
Councilmember Jolon Clark, who represents District 7, which includies Platt Park and Washington Park West and who was voted the new council president at the July 16 meeting, wrote the proposal.
“It shouldn’t matter where you live, how much money you make, what your zip code is — everybody should have safe access to a world-class park,” said Clark, who previously worked as an environmental educator and associate director for the nonprofit The Greenway Foundation, which focuses on the South Platte River. “This bill, if voters pass it, would allow the city to actually deliver on that promise, because unfortunately right now we’re not.”
The proposal would raise Denver’s sales tax from 3.65 percent to 3.90 percent. The average for cities in the metro area, which includes seven counties, is 4.02 percent. For a Denver resident, the increase means paying about 25 cents for every $100. But it would generate an additional $46 million for parks, Clark said in his proposal.
Denver Parks and Recreation applauds Clark’s goal to try to increase funding for parks, spokesperson Cynthia Karvaski said.
“We’re only able to do so much with the money that’s allocated to us in our budget,” Karvaski said. “There are a lot of items that go into our budget every year that prioritywise we’re not able to fund all of them because we do share the general fund with all of the other agencies in the city.”
Denver has $127 million in deferred park maintenance that Clark hopes will start to be chipped away if voters approve the increase in November. There are more than 50 capitol projects listed on the Parks and Recreation website, including trail resurfacing and irrigation projects.
The $127 million does not factor in deferred irrigation costs, which Karvaski said increases that number significantly. Should Clark’s proposal pass, the tax dollars would be allocated to a special fund used solely by the Parks and Recreation Department.
Park overuse is also a concern to Clark, and he hopes that some of the money raised by the measure would go toward acquiring new land to relieve some of the highest-trafficked areas like Washington Park. The 165-acre park has a trail system for joggers and dog-walkers, as well as a playground and recreation center. The park also has boat rentals for the lake in Washington Park.
The city of Denver just lost what could have been the newest park — in the Golden Triangle neighborhoood, Clark said. The property, at 1025 Bannock, is being used as a parking lot. But the city couldn’t match the $2 million grant requirement from Great Outdoors Colorado, a trust fund charged with distributing a portion of lottery proceeds toward outdoor projects.
Kris Green lives in Green Valley Ranch but works across from Civic Center park. He often takes his lunch break there. Green thinks that parks in Green Valley Ranch, where he often takes his daughter, have maintenance issues, but not parks closer to downtown Denver. Green Valley Ranch is in northeast Denver near the airport.
“I don’t have any complaints about any of the parks, they seem fine to me,” Green said. “I don’t see why we would need to increase taxes for the parks — but don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are viable reasons.”
Mayor Michael Hancock’s office has not yet said whether it will support the measure. Voters in November will possibly need to weigh this proposal alongside others, including a transportation and mental health sales tax increase. Clark said he is confident voters will weigh each proposal on its merit.
“I think Denver voters are eager to have the choice,” Clark said. “I think it’s a very smart electorate who will weigh all of these things that are put in front of them.”
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