Littleton voters were strongly approving Ballot Question 7B, a measure allowing South Metro Fire Rescue to expand its boundaries to include the city beginning in 2020, which was winning with 58.4 percent of the vote with 15,952 votes counted as of 10 p.m. on Election Night.
The measure creates the second-largest fire department in the state, and increases property taxes to pay for what officials call superior fire service.
City officials called the vote a win for citizens.
“I'm very grateful to the voters that they saw the value of inclusion,” said Littleton Mayor Debbie Brinkman. “This is exactly how we should be handling the fire authority.”
Fire protection is the most important service a city provides its citizens, said City Manager Mark Relph.
“You've got to get it right,” Relph said. “South Metro provides far better financial stability than the city ever did.”
Littleton Fire Rescue, the city's firefighting service, will be dissolved at the end of 2018, and the city will begin contracting with South Metro Fire Rescue, a large regional district, on Jan. 1, 2019. The city will pay South Metro for fire service out of its coffers for the first year, but beginning in 2020, property owners will begin paying South Metro directly.
Currently, homeowners in Littleton pay a mill levy of 6.662, part of which pays for fire service. South Metro, however, charges 9.25 mills for its service. An ordinance passed earlier this year requires city staff to submit a budget for 2020 that drops the city's mill levy rate to 2.0 beginning in 2020.
The difference means that a homeowner will see a property tax increase of $148.65 a year on a home worth $450,000, according to city estimates.
The election followed a contentious year of planning and campaigning. Littleton Fire Rescue's two fire partners announced last fall that they would cut ties with the city and join South Metro Fire Rescue, citing feeling left out of the decision-making process.
The partners, Littleton Fire Protection District and Highlands Ranch Metro District, voted in May 2018 to allow South Metro to expand its borders to include them.
The fire inclusion plan drew backlash from longtime local political fixtures, many associated with the Sunshine community watchdog group. Former Littleton Mayor Doug Clark galvanized opposition to the measure in the month prior to the election, making his case on a website arguing that the city could easily pay out-of-pocket for service through South Metro on an ongoing contract basis, obtaining the same service without raising taxes.
“I'm not surprised,” Clark said of the inclusion measure passing. “I don't understand the logic, but that's the will of the voter.”
Executive sessions restored
In a surprising reversal, voters approved Ballot Question 3E, which restores city council's ability to hold closed-door executive session meetings.
The measure, which was passing with 52.7 percent of the vote with 17,035 votes counted at 10 a.m. on Nov. 7, reverses restrictions on executive sessions imposed by a 2013 citizen initiative.
City officials argued executive sessions are important to handling city business like negotiating beneficial real estate deals, handling personnel matters and drafting safety plans.
Mayor Brinkman said she's grateful to citizens for restoring the privilege of executive sessions.
“It's a tool council uses in service of the community,” Brinkman said. “The community recognized that this council and leadership is in working in their service. We'll take this as a sign of support, and we'll respect this privilege.”
Brinkman said she doesn't yet have anything in mind to discuss in executive session.
“When something does come along, like negotiations for land or legal advice, we'll discuss those in accordance with the law. We're not going to rush into a bunch of sessions.”
Relph said executive sessions will better equip the city to handle sensitive issues.
“We may start looking at some property acquisitions for open space near the river, and executive sessions will help us get the best deal with taxpayer money,” Relph said.
Carol Brzeczek, the local political stalwart who spearheaded the 2013 effort, declined to comment on the measure's passage.
Charter amendments fail
Voters strongly rejected a series of other amendments to the city charter — Ballot Questions 3A-3D — which, if passed, would have had a variety of impacts on city business.
3A-3D were billed by the city as “housekeeping” amendments meant to clean up redundant or inefficient language in the city charter.
Each of the amendments drew lengthy statements in opposition in the city's blue book voter guide, written by Brzeczek.
3A sought to combine two charter sections detailing qualifications to city council.
3B would have changed charter language regarding the qualifications and roles of the city attorney and their staff.
3C was intended to modernize the role of the city's municipal judge.
3D would have combined sections of the charter related to licenses and permits for temporary use of city property, and delegated oversight to the city manager.
Mayor Brinkman attributed the measures' failure to a lack of adequate messaging on the city's part.
“We didn't do a very good job of explaining those,” Brinkman said. “They were simply cleanup. There was no substantive change to the charter.”
Brinkman said the city isn't worse off because the amendments didn't pass.
“I'm not going to lose any sleep over those,” Brinkman said.
Relph agreed that the amendments' failure was from lack of attention.
“We didn't have enough community discussion around those,” Relph said. “Lesson learned. They would have brought efficiency, but I think people got skeptical when they saw that we just called them `housekeeping.'”