• Haines Eason

Denver's broken record: Begging for the basics with bonds

Updated: Mar 15, 2019


Note: Originally published in the August 2017 issue of the Washington Park Profile and Life on Capitol Hill.


Before you get excited about the current GO Bond package, a package which includes new or refurbished pools, a complete replacement of one of the city’s funkiest police stations (District 6), the restoration of mountain parkland facilities and major (and much needed) Colfax Avenue transit improvements, think about this: a substantial portion of the package’s funding is for deferred maintenance, not actual “wish list” projects.

What does that mean? It means every ten years Denver gets to fix things it should be able to fix as a matter of course, and, given how tightly monitored taxation is in our local and state environments, it means many more projects—often essential projects other cities would just fund—have to wait months or years for leaders to find funding workarounds. Sometimes, they find funds in ways we don’t like (area taxes off events perhaps being one vehicle).

The GO Bond should not be where we shove projects that Denver’s city departments should be able to fix without asking—begging—for the funds. Roads? Drainage systems? Sidewalks? These are infrastructural elements that do not belong on a wish list. They belong in the annual project lists of relevant city departments. It is preposterous there are Denver neighborhoods that lack sidewalks or that flood when a light rainstorm passes. It is an outright shame many pedestrians must share roads with cars.

The GO Bond should be a chance for the city to dream, to reward itself, to uplift neighborhoods long in need of essential amenities. Our minority communities do not have the same level of basic services and amenities as our white communities. Yes, the GO Bond’s current list of projects does attempt to begin to address the divide. But it could go further if deferred projects did not require their day.

The GO Bond should not be where we shove projects that Denver’s city departments should be able to fix without asking—begging—for the funds. Roads? Drainage systems? Sidewalks? These are infrastructural elements that do not belong on a wish list. They belong in the annual project lists of relevant city departments. It is preposterous there are Denver neighborhoods that lack sidewalks or that flood when a light rainstorm passes. It is an outright shame many pedestrians must share roads with cars.

"Denver, and Colorado, are still taxing and servicing like this is the wild west—let each fend for him- or herself. We don’t have Wyoming’s or Montana’s or even Utah’s populations. ... The front range is becoming more and more urban and requires the tax revenue to support real urban needs."

Propertied Denverites may hate me for writing so, but a fact is a fact: Colorado’s property taxes, the principal vehicle by which most local and state governments generate revenues to provide the basic services mentioned above, are very, very low, and we must raise them above what the hot real estate market provides. According to a Denver Post article of April 6 and numerous other sources, Coloradans pay an averaged 0.52 percent property tax rate compared to a national average of 1.15. The City and County of Denver has an effective property tax rate of 0.48 percent and a median home price of $486,218. The average Denverite’s annual tax bill is $2,312. That’s roughly $193 a month. On a $486,218 house. Outrageous. The city can claim 131,544 single family homes according to realtytrac.com. If each paid an additional $5 a month, or $60 a year, the city could claim $7.9 million more in revenue to cover some of these backlogged maintenance projects. That’s one latte a month, and miles of new sidewalks or resurfaced roads in trade. Increasing the rate will carry us beyond our current operating standards. The market is hot because more people want to live here, not because Denver’s existing housing stock improved overnight. And, with more residents, there is more wear and tear on our roads and other infrastructural components.

A leading counterargument is that increasing property taxes unjustly impacts one class of resident while letting others—apartment dwellers, perhaps—off the hook. Maybe. Maybe we need to add a gas tax or increase a sales tax or find other vehicles … as other components to this equation. This counterargument does not address one simple fact: our property tax rates are too low.

Denver, and Colorado, are still taxing and servicing like this is the wild west—let each fend for him- or herself. We don’t have Wyoming’s or Montana’s or even Utah’s populations. Colorado can now claim at least one real, dense, truly urban center. We have five times Montana’s population and nearly ten times Wyoming’s. The front range is becoming more and more urban and requires the tax revenue to support real urban needs.

I know rates just increased dramatically 2016 to 2017, but they did so on increased valuation, not rate. I also know this human pressure is new to most Coloradans, but now is the time to act. Find the revenue now, or future GO Bonds will be nothing but a backlog of essentials for what could by then be a second- or third-rate city.

#Community #Business #Development #Government

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