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Community, resilience and safety tax extension nearing official spot on ballot

Council is not ready to make moves on other municipal funding options

Boulder Municipal Building
Boulder Municipal Building
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With some $300 million in unfunded capital infrastructure needs, Boulder’s City Council appears ready to ask voters to extend its 0.3% community, resilience and safety tax later this year.

“We tend to ignore those critical needs in exchange for the shiny baubles,” Councilmember Mary Young said. “While the shiny baubles can be very exciting and can bring a lot of vitality to the city, you really can’t continue to have a vital city when your streets aren’t being taken care of.”

On Tuesday the Boulder City Council unanimously agreed to continue moving toward a ballot measure that would ask voters to extend the 0.3% tax. The council also agreed the city could proceed with a ballot measure to issue debt in the process.

If extended, the community, resilience and safety tax — in previous iterations called the community, culture and safety tax — could generate anywhere from $127 million to $200 million, depending on whether the measure asks for a 10- or 15-year extension. A portion of the funding would be dedicated for community nonprofits.

According to information presented on Tuesday, the tax, originally approved by voters in 2014 and extended by voter approval in 2017, generated about $43 million since it was extended several years ago. City representatives previously told the Camera that this year they expect it to generate another $9.7 million.

Upgrades to Boulder Fire-Rescue facilities, maintenance of the city’s transportation network, Boulder Creek corridor remediation, renovations to the East Boulder Recreation Center and outreach and customer service technology upgrades are among the projects that the city has identified as high priorities and that the financial strategy subcommittee recommended.

There was some frustration on the part of several councilmembers about the fact the financial strategy subcommittee — Mayor Pro Tem Junie Joseph and councilmembers Mark Wallach and Young — had the opportunity to sit through hours of meetings to learn about some of these projects and to make recommendations.

“I’m a little concerned that the questions for the survey were identified by the committee and staff without input from all of council,” Councilmember Bob Yates said. “I think it’s going to put at a significant disadvantage any projects that were not selected for the survey.”

The subcommittee members acknowledged this but noted the council ultimately has the final say when it finalizes recommendations in July and approves final ballot language the following month.

“We recognize that this has not been vetted through the entire council or through the proper means. We did want to come with projects that we do believe, and that the financial strategy committee believes, are very important for funding in the near future for the city,” Chief Financial Officer Cheryl Pattelli said.

Moving forward, the staff will complete a community survey that it intends to distribute to Boulder voters. Those who take the survey will help shape the ballot language. They’ll have a say in whether it’s a 10- or 15-year tax, and they can identify their specific project preferences.

Aside from asking voters to extend the community, resilience and safety tax, however, the Boulder City Council on Tuesday agreed that now is not the time to raise taxes or impose new fees on Boulder residents and business owners.

In a study session, the council discussed various municipal funding options, including property taxes, sales and use taxes, excise taxes and other fees.

In terms of property taxes, Boulder currently has an 11.981-mill levy, which is expected to generate $48 million in 2021.

It can increase that by just more than 1 mill before hitting the city charter cap of 13 mills. A 1-mill increase would bring in about $4.3 million and would increase taxes by about $72 a year on a home valued at $1 million.

While property taxes and sales and use taxes bring in the most revenue, the council was hesitant to pursue any increases in the near term, despite acknowledgement from many that the funding needs are there.

The council agreed that the conversation about municipal funding should continue and suggested researching several options, including a transportation utility fee, a head tax and additional fees for services and parking.

Other ballot items

The council also agreed to ask voters about a number of smaller city charter revisions, including one that would offer even payments to councilmembers throughout the year and another that would create a blue-ribbon commission to study council compensation.

Councilmember Adam Swetlik said he voted against increases to council compensation before serving on the council himself. After serving, however, he realized that compensation is important given the workload and the need to attract a diverse group of candidates.

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