Littleton city leaders were staring down a worst-case scenario if a proposal to raise the city's sales tax had failed to pass in the election that ended Nov. 2.
“This was a do-or-die vote,” said outgoing At-Large Councilmember Scott Melin in an interview with Colorado Community Media.
Voters largely supported the initiative, known as 3A, which passed with nearly 59% of the vote.
The proposal will raise the city's sales tax by 0.75%, or by 75 cents on every $100 spent, and is projected to raise about $9 million annually for the Capital Projects Fund to pay for more than 70 projects that have been backlogged. It is the first time the city has increased its sales tax in almost 50 years.
“It is never easy to ask for a tax increase but I credit voters for understanding the urgency of the need,” said City Manager Mark Relph in a statement.
The issue had united incumbent councilmembers, as well as candidates, who said its passage was the best way to secure stable funding for the city's Capital Projects Fund, which was set to hit $0 by 2025. The fund pays for vital city projects such as road repair, public building maintenance and upkeep of police fleets.
Had city leaders failed to secure the new revenue, they were concerned about a future where more budget cuts would have been imminent.
Sean Walsh, a political consultant who led the campaign for 3A, said having the backing of all nine council candidates was “was a huge leg up” for getting the ballot issue across the finish line.
Councilmembers celebrated its passing.
“I am so unbelievably thankful to the citizens of this community for supporting (3A),” said District 4 Councilmember Kelly Milliman. “It's huge.”
Patrick Driscoll, councilmember for Littleton's District 1, said with new revenue secured he hopes public work can begin within a matter of months.
“You're going to see a huge transformation starting in January, February,” said Driscoll, who had been a key proponent of pushing 3A onto this year's ballot. “We'll get to work”
The tax increase's success also brings a sigh of relief for newly elected councilmembers who feel they can hit the ground running when they enter office.
“It's a clear sign that people believe 'yes, we want to take care of the things that we love,'” said Stephen Barr, who won election to a council seat representing Littleton's District 3.
With the new funding, city leaders plan to address what they see as long-neglected investments in Littleton's infrastructure, such as relieving congestion by building a road to divert traffic from the Santa Fe Drive and West Mineral Avenue intersection, one of the city's busiest areas.
The funds will also go toward restoring public services and community centers that had been whittled down as a result of the pandemic.
Jerry Valdes, the outgoing Littleton mayor who will now serve as a District 2 councilmember, said he hopes some of the money can be used to hire back staff at Bemis Library and the Littleton Museum to make both “better than ever.”
Money will also be put toward securing body cameras for all Littleton Police Officers in compliance with the state's police reform bill that passed last summer. The law requires that all Colorado police departments issue body-worn cameras to their officers by July 1, 2023.
But despite majority support, the sales tax increase did raise some eyebrows from Littleton business owners who said a price hike for customers could hurt them.
Pat Dunahay, co-president of the Littleton Business Chamber and owner of PDA Roadgear, a car audio and accessory shop, said he's talked at his store about how 3A could stifle some business as customers may be inclined to shop for certain goods in places with a lower sales tax, such as Englewood.
“My guys are always nervous anytime there's anything that's not promoting business,” Dunahay said.
Still, Dunahay said he supported 3A and voted for it.
“We all want good roads, we all want good cops, we all want a good community,” he said.
Dunahay said the business chamber sent out an internal survey to gauge where business owners landed on the sales tax increase. They found owners were nearly split 50-50 on their support for 3A's passage.
Pat Sommers, owner of Shirt off my Back and a partner in Jackass Hill Brewery, both located on Main Street, said he supported the tax increase but hopes it can be the only one for the foreseeable future. He said the city must be vigilant to keep its taxes low enough that it will not impede business growth.
“They can't keep coming back until we're paying a 12% tax rate or something,” he said. “It's a fine line that you have to draw.”
Sommers said he trusts city staff to use the money in a fiscally responsible way.
Dunahay has floated a possible sunset of the sales tax to 0.50% should the city meet its goals faster than expected, which Valdes said is “realistic to consider.”
But Sommers is not convinced it will happen.
“I've never seen money that doesn't get used,” he said.
To placate some citizens' concerns about how their tax dollars will be used, Driscoll said the council and city staff plan to create an advisory board that will act as a watchdog for how the money is spent.
“We are going to prove year in year out where that money is going,” Driscoll said. “I'm really excited about how it will prove the transparency that we're going to have behind it.”
Other items that may interest you
We have noticed you are using an ad blocking plugin in your browser.
The revenue we receive from our advertisers helps make this site possible. We request you whitelist our site.