Sales tax increase steps closer to ballot

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A sales tax hike question is a step closer to being on the Wheat Ridge ballot this fall, after council members voted for with the measure during an Aug. 26 meeting.

But the immediate question is not whether voters will support the ballot question, but rather if the mayor will end up signing or vetoing the ordinance.

On a 6-2 vote, the council gave final approval for the measure, which, if voters approve, would result in a 1 percent sales and use tax increase that is expected to generate more than $6 million in city revenue next year.

The tax hike is the equivalent of a penny increase for every dollar spent and would lift Wheat Ridge’s sales and use tax to a 4 percent rate — the highest among neighboring communities.

The money would be used for unspecified capital improvement projects, that supporters say the city needs. However, those opposed to the tax hike fear that it could have a negative impact on local businesses.

Kristi Davis, a District II council member and supporter of the tax hike, said that the city’s streets and sidewalks are in need of improvements.

“I don’t want to look at Wheat Ridge like that,” Davis said, referring to areas around town that she feels need attention.

District IV Councilman Joseph DeMott also voted yes on the ordinance. DeMott, who owns pizza restaurants in Wheat Ridge, Lakewood and Arvada, said he does not think that a slight sales tax increase adversely affects businesses like his.

“People are not running away from buying pizza in Arvada,” DeMott said, referring to Arvada’s sales and use tax rate, which is close to 3.5 percent.

DeMott also said that Wheat Ridge’s property tax rate is very low and that a sales and use tax hike is “by far, the fairest way to ask for a tax increase.”

DeMott and Davis were joined by council members George Pond, Davis Reinhart, William “Bud” Starker and Tracy Langworthy in voting for the measure.

But council members Mike Stites and Joyce Jay — who will square off in a mayoral race this fall — voted against moving forward with the ballot question.

“It does not bode well for us when we are trying so hard to promote economic development,” said Jay, who unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would have lowered the tax hike by half of a percent.

Jay also wondered what Wheat Ridge voters’ appetites for a local sales tax hike will be this fall, at the same time when they and other Colorado voters are expected to decide on a separate income tax hike that would fund an overhaul to the state’s school finance formula.

Stites has been against the tax increase “from the word go.” Yet, up until the Aug. 26 meeting, he had been in favor of at least letting the voters decide on the measure.

Two city residents spoke during the public comment period, both of whom were against the tax hike.

Mayor Jerry DiTullio would not say whether he would sign or veto the ordinance. The mayor had seven days from the meeting date to make that determination.

If DiTullio does issue a veto, it would take the support of six council members for an override.

The city has until Sept. 6 to submit the ballot language to the Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, in order for the question to appear on the November ballot.