Pot and lodging taxes, citizen bills make ballot

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While a trio of bills that seemed to take direct aim at a pair of successful citizen initiatives died in front of Littleton City Council Aug. 20, measures to impose city taxes on pot and lodging will appear on the November ballot, as will one asking to redraw council boundaries every 10 years rather than every four.

“I’m concerned some of you might be motivated to confuse the voters,” said Frank Atwood, a sponsor of the initiatives put forth by the grassroots Citizens for Rational Development, about the proposed competition.

City Clerk Wendy Heffner announced Aug. 22 that CRD had gathered enough signatures to get the initiatives on the fall ballot.

The first would require the seven-member council to pass a rezone with a supermajority if it is challenged by 20 percent of property owners within 100 feet of the site in question, or if the planning board recommends against it. Littleton’s home-rule charter supersedes state law on most things, and it allows rezoning requests to pass with a simple majority.

At council’s direction, city staff came up with two alternatives that attempted to find middle ground. In the end, one died for lack of a second to Councilor Jim Taylor’s motion, and the other fell 3-4, with Taylor, Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Stahlman and Councilor Phil Cernanec voting in favor.

“I think what we have been doing has worked well,” said Councilor Peggy Cole.

CRD’s second proposal is to limit council’s use of closed-door meetings. It would allow council to meet in executive session only to discuss ongoing lawsuits and matters that are required to be confidential by state and federal law — generally personnel matters and legal advice. It would prohibit them from turning off the recording device when meeting with their attorney, which state law allows, and require them to keep the tape until all the councilors are no longer on council.

City staff drafted countering legislation that would have placed what council actually does into the charter, which is essentially the city’s constitutional document. It basically mirrors state law but doesn’t address recordkeeping.

“Citizens like the idea of a more open and transparent city government, and some would like to eliminate secret meetings altogether,” said Carol Brzeczek, who is leading up the petition charge for CRD.

Of the three measures that council will place on the ballot, only the redistricting question passed unanimously. Mayor Debbie Brinkman and Councilor Bruce Beckman voted against the pot tax, voicing their opposition to marijuana generally. Council hasn’t yet officially decided whether to allow retail sales.

Only Cernanec and Beckman voted against the lodging tax.

The Hampton Inn & Suites on County Line Road, in Brinkman’s district, is Littleton’s only hotel. During a debate in 2011, when Brinkman ran unopposed for re-election, she said not having the tax gives it a competitive edge.

“If they want to be lean and mean, I want to help them be lean and mean,” she said at the time.

“We’re certainly opposed to it,” Chris Bailey, the hotel’s director of sales, said in June. “The value for the customer goes down, and the customer doesn’t separate the tax from the cost of the room. It’s a tax against our hotel, essentially.”

There are two motels, Essex House and Evergreen, both on Santa Fe Drive, neither of which is likely to attract a thriving tourist clientele.

Doug Farmen, the city’s finance director, estimates a 3 percent lodging tax could add $90,000 in annual revenues to the city’s general fund. The state of Colorado, Douglas County and Arapahoe County all collect lodging tax, and the average in Colorado is approximately 2.45 percent.

Littleton residents will also be voting on Nov. 5 to fill four council seats.

Randy Stein is so far the only person running to replace the term-limited Taylor. Beckman and Stahlman both want to retain their at-large seats but are being challenged by newcomer John Watson. Nobody has yet stepped up to challenge Cernanec in District 3.

Five people have officially declared bids for three seats on the Littleton Public Schools Board of Education: Dallas Jones, Kelly Perez, Robert Reichardt, Jack Reutzel and Carrie Warren-Gully. The current board will decide later this month whether to also place an $80 million bond issue on the ballot.

Littleton’s municipal election is Nov. 5.