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Ballots for the general election will begin to make their way to voters’ mailboxes on October 9. And while there’s plenty of federal and state offices—and statewide measures—that you’ll want to weigh before filling in those bubbles, there are 12 additional ballot measures that Denverites will have to consider. Local voters have the chance to make their voices heard on timely questions like the city’s spending to address climate change, a decades-long debate about owning a specific dog breed, and several measures from City Council that would attempt to edge for more power over Denver’s current “strong-mayor” system. Here are each of those ballot measures, explained.
What you’ll see: “Shall city and county of Denver sales and use taxes be increased by $40.8 million annually, commencing Jan. 1, 2021, and by whatever additional amounts are raised annually thereafter, from a twenty-five one hundredths of one percent (0.25 percent) sales and use tax rate (2.5 cents on a ten-dollar purchase) with exemptions for food, water, fuel, medical supplies, and feminine hygiene products, to be used to fund programs to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, and adapt to climate change…?”
What it means: Denver’s Climate Action Task Force has a goal to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2025, 60 percent by 2030, and 100 percent by 2040—and this measure would mark a stepping stone toward those targets via a 0.25 percent sales tax increase (2.5 cents on a $10 purchase). The roughly $40 million that’s estimated to be generated annually (the tax could potentially yield less in its first year, as the estimate was made before the pandemic shook the local and national economies) would be used to help shrink the city’s climate footprint via renewable energy efforts, including expanded carbon-free bus systems, training for jobs in clean energy sectors, and improving energy efficiency in homes. Half of the revenue would be dedicated strictly to addressing systems of environmental injustice “with a strong lens toward equity, race, and social justice,” according to the bill.
Opponents say the regressive tax would place the burden on middle- and lower-class communities that are already disproportionately affected and that more needs to be done to steer the economy away from a dependence on fossil fuels. Supporters like Resilient Denver, however, have jumped on board, urging that climate change has to be acted on now rather than later.
What you’ll see: “Should city and county of Denver sales and use taxes be increased by $40 million annually, commencing Jan. 1, 2021, and by whatever additional amounts are raised annually thereafter from a twenty-five one-hundredths of one percent (0.25%) sales tax (2.5 cents on a ten-dollar purchase), that will not be collected on food for home consumption, water, fuel, medical supplies or feminine hygiene products, to be used to fund housing, shelter or services for people experiencing homelessness…?”
What it means: Nearly 6,000 people in Denver are estimated to be experiencing homelessness, and the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly exacerbated the problem. Last year, Denverites voted not to overturn the city’s camping ban, allowing homelessness to remain criminalized—a contentious issue that was re-ignited when the pandemic hit, and the city’s indoor shelters became hotspots for the novel coronavirus.
In an effort to address disparities in Denver’s homeless and housing-insecure communities, this measure proposes a similar sales tax increase structure to 2A: a 0.25 percent sales tax increase to generate roughly $40 million a year for building additional supportive housing, expanded hours and support for shelters, and services for mental health and substance abuse. Mayor Michael Hancock has stated his support for the bill, which is sponsored by City Councilwoman Robin Kniech, and according to a release from the Mayor’s Office, the measure would cost the average Denver household an estimated $5.25 per month. The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, the Delores Project, and the Downtown Denver Partnership have echoed support for the measure. No groups have formally opposed the measure.
What you’ll see: “Shall the Charter of the City and County of Denver be amended to give City Council the authority to procure for professional services without executive branch approval?”
What it means: This measure is one of several on the ballot that would give more power to City Council than currently delineated in the city’s charter. If passed, this measure would amend the charter to allow the council to hire professional services, such as legal counsel, with money from their budget and without the initial approval of the mayor. Denver City Councilwoman Debbie Ortega pushed the issue, citing past instances where precautionary action could have been taken, or costly action avoided, with initial guidance from lawyers. For example, several years ago when the council was asked to review the large contract for the Great Hall Project at Denver International Airport that eventually floundered and cost nearly $184 million to terminate; or in 2018, when the council was considering whether they could pursue further investigation when Hancock admitted to sending suggestive text messages in 2012 to a member of his staff. City Council unanimously voted to pass the question on to voters, and so far, no one has expressed organized opposition to the measure.
What you’ll see: “Shall the charter of the City and County of Denver be amended to create the Board of Transportation and Infrastructure to advise the Manager with respect to the policy and operation of the Department and shall review and comment on the proposed annual budget for the Department?”
What it means: Last year, Denver voters approved the creation of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure. This measure would allow for the creation of a separate advisory board to advise the executive director (currently Eulois Cleckley) on policy, operation, and review the annual proposed budget. The board would consist of 19 unpaid members: six appointed by the mayor, and the remaining chosen by each of the 13 City Council members. These individuals would be required, among other diversity checkpoints, to reside in the district of the councilmember who selected them. Councilwoman Ortega says the measure would open the doors to proper community input on transportation issues, and cited the Department of Parks and Recreation as a positive example, which has seen impactful community participation since instituting its own advisory board.
What you’ll see: “Shall the Charter of the City and County of Denver be amended to give City Council authority to consent to certain mayoral appointments?”
What it means: City Council members Candi CdeBaca and Amanda Sawyer spearheaded the measure last fall for more legislative oversight into the mayor’s official appointments, long before city- and nationwide protests erupted calling attention to systemic issues like racism in policing. CdeBaca says that recent events indicate an even stronger need for transparency and accountability when it comes to these decisions. If passed, City Council would have the authority to approve 14 mayoral appointments: the city’s sheriff, police and fire chiefs, as well as 11 executive cabinet members. Cities like Los Angeles, Houston, and Chicago operate on a similar model of council approval for mayoral appointments, and proponents say Denver is currently the only strong-mayor system in the state that does not follow this practice. Opponents of the measure say it represents an impulsive decision on the council’s behalf, and would add another large hurdle to an already difficult process of finding solid candidates for these positions.
What you’ll see: “Shall Article III, Part 3, of the Charter of the City and County of Denver be updated to remove outdated language and allow for modernization of the conduct of city business?”
What it means: The city charter was originally drafted in 1904 and many of the provisions have not been updated since early versions. Councilwoman Sawyer, who drafted this measure, along with several council members, says the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted some of this outdated verbiage, which limited how the council could do business during times of emergency. The measure would attempt to remove the “overly prescriptive” language, and would not mean any change in access to public participation in City Council meetings.
What you’ll see: “Shall the Charter of the City and County of Denver be amended to give the city council authority to initiate supplemental appropriation or transfer, following consultation with the Manager of Finance?”
What it means: This measure would allow City Council to alter the city’s budget in the middle of a fiscal year to address urgent needs, be it through reappropriating excess funds, appropriating new funds, or transfers. The mayor would still have the power to approve of the spending or push it to be considered for the next round of annual budgeting if it is not deemed pressing. The Mayor’s Office currently holds the sole power to decide on pressing budget matters, for example, how to spend the federal relief funding for the response to COVID-19. Councilwoman Kniech proposed the measure, arguing that it would pull City Council out of a strictly reactionary position, and proponents say it could allow the council to be more responsive to taxpayers in the face of unexpected needs. Opponents of the measure say it could be used rashly, and that the mayor and budget director already work with the council throughout the year to evaluate the use of unexpected revenues.
What you’ll see: “Shall the City and County of Denver, without increasing taxes by this measure, reestablish the city’s right to provide all services restricted since 2005 by the Colorado General Assembly with their passage of Senate Bill 05-152, including the authority but not obligation to provide high-speed Internet (advanced services), telecommunication services, and cable television services, including any new and improved high bandwidth services based on future technologies, to residents, businesses, schools, libraries, non-profit entities and other users of such services either directly or indirectly with public or private sector partners, as expressly permitted by Article 27, Title 29 of the Colorado Revised Statutes?”
What it means: Since Senate Bill 152 was passed in 2005, restricting local governments from investing in public broadband, Denver has been limited to mainstream providers like CenturyLink and Comcast. However, roughly 16 percent of Denver households are without high-speed internet, according to most recent census data, and the pandemic has since highlighted those disparities. Councilman Paul Kashmann, who sponsored this bill, alluded to this inequity when proposing the measure, which would open the possibility to explore public broadband infrastructure or private partnerships to achieve the same goal. If passed, Denver would be one of nearly 100 other cities, counties, and municipalities that have since voted to opt out of the 2005 bill, though not all have gone on to provide a public broadband option. No formal comments opposing the measure were filed for Denver’s ballot issue booklet, but Comcast had unsuccessfully lobbied against similar actions in Fort Collins in 2017, and a spokesperson told the Denver Post that closing the internet gap will instead require strengthening “partnerships between the city, broadband providers, and community/nonprofit organizations” with existing options. The Denver Internet Initiative has jumped on board to back this measure.
What you’ll see: “Shall the Charter of the City and County of Denver be amended to clarify that the Clerk and Recorder may appoint four at-will employees in addition to the Deputy, all of whom shall be exempt from the career service personnel system?”
What it means: Proposed by Denver Clerk and Recorder Paul Lopez, this measure would structure the Clerk and Recorder office into three divisions, each led by a director, and clarify the language in the city charter so that the clerk can appoint high-ranking employees, as opposed to having a mixed pool of appointees and “hired employees.” The change would not have budgetary impacts, though some voters are concerned that it would technically strike language in the city’s charter guaranteeing the role of director of elections under future Clerks and Recorders—something that’s not clearly stated in the language of the measure.
What you’ll see: “Shall the voters for the City and County of Denver adopt an ordinance authorizing the city to grant a provisional permit to owners or keepers of a pit bull, provided the owner microchips the animal and complies with additional requirements set by Denver Animal Protection?”
What it means: Denver has banned pit bulls for over 30 years, making it one of an estimated 700 cities across the U.S. with similar breed-specific legislation. Many cities are beginning to walk back their bans, including Castle Rock, which repealed its ban in 2018. If passed, this measure wouldn’t be an outright repeal of the ban. Instead, the ban would be replaced with a sort of “pit bull probation,” meaning Denverites would apply for a “breed-restricted license” with Denver Animal Protection. If the pit bulls have no behavioral incidents in three years, the breed-restricted license would be dropped and owners could register their pet normally. If any incidents occur after that, the current ordinance would apply.
It’s an emotional issue for many, and one that had a tumultuous start in 2020. City Council voted to pass a similar proposal in February, only to have it vetoed by Mayor Hancock. The council then attempted and failed to overturn the veto. Now, it’s up to Denver voters. Those who support the measure, like the Dumb Friends League, say the current legislation is based on misconceptions about pit bulls having a genetic disposition for violence, and that more objective, behavior-based criteria besides physical features should be used to determine whether an animal is dangerous. (Pit bulls are not technically a recognized breed, but it’s a term for dogs that exhibit characteristics of American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, or mut mixes of any of these breeds.) Those who oppose the measure argue that there have been no reported deaths from pit bull attacks since the ban was enacted in 1989.
4A & 4B
What they mean: These two measures—one bond and one mill levy—would provide a boost of roughly $827 million in funding for Denver Public Schools to address needs delineated by a 75-person citizens’ committee. If passed, measure 4A would institute an additional property tax to provide $32 million for Denver Public Schools to invest in mental health services, special education, and nursing support amid the pandemic, and $15 million designated for employee pay (including raising the minimum wage for support staff to $14.77 an hour and cost of living increases for teachers). To achieve that, the measure would enact a levy increase that would cost roughly $4.25 monthly, or $51 annually, for Denver homeowners with homes valued at the median $465,000, according to DPS.
Measure 4B would provide $795 million in funding for maintenance, repairs, adding air conditioning, upgrading technology, and either remodeling or rebuilding the Montbello High School campus. And $31.7 million of the funds would be designated for additions and upgrades in key spaces like classrooms, playgrounds, libraries, gyms, and more.
Editor’s note, 10/20/20: An earlier version of this article was missing information about measure 2I’s impact on the city’s director of elections role, as well the average estimated cost of the 4A mill levy increase for Denver homeowners. Additional information has been added for clarity.