The next question for Westminster mayoral and City Council candidates has to do with taxes. Westminster relies heavily on sales and use tax revenues - as do most Colorado municipalities - while its …
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The next question for Westminster mayoral and City Council candidates has to do with taxes.
Westminster relies heavily on sales and use tax revenues - as do most Colorado municipalities - while its 3.65 mills property tax rate is one of the lowest in the Denver metro. To date, the city has not allowed marijuana sales or pursued a tax on it.
The question to the candidates is: What is your position on seeking voter approval on any tax increases or imposing a marijuana tax for 2022 and 2023?
Please note that Mayoral Candidate Austin Watts has withdrawn from the race and City Council candidates Kathleen Dorado and Jon Voelz -currently running in the recall election - did not respond to the question.
Mayor candidates up first
“Ensuring that the city has sustainable revenue to provide critical city services is important. Westminster is dependent on sales tax, fluctuating between 60% and 70% of our general fund each year. Simultaneously, consumer retail tastes and trends are changing rapidly. These realities make Westminster vulnerable, and as such, I along with City Council have asked city staff to provide us with recommendations on the feasibility, and possible structure of a few ballot questions: asking the voters about allowing marijuana sales, increasing the public safety tax, extending the sunset and/or increasing our parks and open space tax. Any tax must be efficiently and effectively used to provide needed services to residents.
“I have supported a tax increase for Fire and Police. As the city grew and new officers and fire fighters were needed, this tax was to help with those expenses, not to replace what was already in general fund. Included was also extra personnel it takes to support more Fire and Police. I supported Open Space tax. Open Space is why people come here to live. City needs to look at what it will take to maintain this open space. Do we still need the tax? Medical Marijuana, and/or marijuana shops. Do you want them in the city? These tax questions need to go to the citizens.”
Councilors need more info
“Retail sales of marijuana products are not allowed in Westminster. Westminster is a very rich city so maybe Council should consider lowering taxes. We need to know the extent to which COVID Stay-at-home and on-line sales have changed consumer habits and the impact it will have on Westminster sales tax income before making any decisions.
“Like you, I respect the voter approval requirement of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights. I am disgusted by the current trend to exclude voters by redefining taxes as “fees.” I want competent, efficient, thrifty, transparent, no nonsense, resident-centric government that facilities and allows us the beautiful, green neighborhoods to make an attractive city.”
“I am no on increasing the property tax in the city. I am unsure if we need a new water plant, which is a big driver of rate increases. However, we will always have expenses to maintain our water utility and provide clean water. I have asked if an avenue to address these needs and maybe a plant if needed is to go to voters for some sort of sales tax specifically for these needs. This could reduce the need to increase rates. Potentially, that could also help with road maintenance. Lastly, Marijuana is a question for the voters. If approved, I would direct revenue to fund public safety.”
Let residents decide
“I’m opposed to any tax increases until we ensure that our families and businesses have recovered from the pandemic. For this specific topic, residents need to first vote to allow the sale of cannabis in Westminster (retail sales are currently illegal within the city), and then tax it.”
“First, I am not an expert on taxation and therefore would need to have additional research to finalize any decision contemplated below. Regarding property taxes, I have reticence over increasing them. I think that this move would disproportionately impact our most vulnerable households, including seniors and others with lower/fixed incomes. However, I would contemplate the potential for marijuana sales and taxation. Similar to Council’s sentiments in 2020, I want more information on the physical and fiscal impacts of this move. The resulting revenues should benefit the community directly and be allocated to programs and funding that stabilizes our community, which could include affordable housing and home ownership assistance.”
“The voters have the right to decide tax increases and imposed new taxes. The revenue should be earmarked so its purpose is clear and transparent. This also permits the city to be accountable to the residents. Sunsetting a tax is largely dependent upon the purpose of the tax increase or new tax. Sunsetting should also be Determined By And Part Of The Ask Of The Voters.”
Westminster Police in turmoil
Unfortunately, the Westminster Police Department has been in turmoil for some time now. Management had been keeping it pretty much below the radar.
However, events of July 12 - between items on the Westminster City Council agenda and a notice posted on the city’s website- made it more visible.
Two agenda items “Status of Collective Bargaining Inquiry” under the city manager’s report and “Special Legal Counsel—Employment and Labor Law Matters.” Both items pertain to the police department’s union requesting recognition and collective bargaining.
Manager Tripp has been holding discussions with union leaders. The council voted 6-0 to hire the law firm of Engler Callaway Beaster & Sraga LLC, although the agenda memo was quite cryptic and didn’t mention the specific purpose of using their services. Insiders have known for some time that there are leadership issues and lack of consistency in disciplinary actions.
Police Chief on Administrative Leave
The other related item was a city website announcement that Police Chief Tim Carlson went on paid administrative leave immediately, with Deputy Chief Norm Haubert being put in charge of the department. His leave is connected to the city hiring a third party consultant to conduct a review of the police department’s internal workplace environment.
This action does not come as a surprise, given the discontent and turmoil among police officers and with so many leaving the Westminster department.
Unfortunately, I predicted that the police department would follow the fire department’s efforts to unionize. It is unclear at this point if the issues can be administratively resolved or the FOP police union will seek recognition either by the city council or by a vote of the people.
Stay tuned as this is just gaining more visibility.
Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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