City Council Study Session Citizen Minutes – 03.26.2013

Littleton City Council Study Session

March 26, 2013

Turkey and Beef on Buns, Shrimp Skewers, Scallops wrapped in Bacon, Brie and Crackers, Veggies, Assorted Desserts and Soda were served.

Assessed Valuation Changes in Littleton – Eric Ervin from the Economic Development Department  and Doug Farmen, Finance Director, provided the report to the council.  To summarize it was stated that Littleton had weathered the storm well but our expenses are increasing at a higher rate than our revenues.  We don’t have a steady revenue stream to keep up with our expenses.  Farmen was asked about how he projects future revenue and he said he does not even consider any revenue coming from a new  project until the project is underway.  Once underway he figures that the city won’t see any revenue from property taxes for approximately two years.  Here are the handouts.  2013 03.26.2013 Assess Val HO 12013.03.26.2013 Assess Val HO 22013 03.26.2013 Assess Val HO 3

Immigration Initiative Update – The program is housed at Bemis and is funded in part by tax dollars.  However, the Initiative has been awarded a total of $564,731.00 in grant money and $11,700.00 in donations since 2006.

Future Potential Ballot Measures – Michael Penny brought in a consultant to talk to the council about when and how to go to the taxpayers for more tax dollars.  Lori Weigel works with groups that want to go to the voters for a tax increase.  She has worked with LPS and So Suburban in the past.  She would poll a random, stratified sample of 300 to 400 voters to determine voter attitudes, test support for the public entity and the ballot measure and then determine tax thresholds in relationship to the timing of the election.

People on constrained budgets are less likely to part with their money.  She would help the city to identify a convincing message, frame the issue and identify the swing voters.  It is necessary to understand who the swing voters are.  Do the voters initially support the measure?  Who does support it and who does not?  What messages and messengers are the most persuasive?  How effective are your opponents messages?  After the voter has heard from both sides of the measure will the voters support the city council?

Bruce Beckman asked about where the line is that the council can’t cross in the way of supporting a ballot question.  Weigel said there is a definite line.  (What they are talking about is the Fair Campaign Practices Law which does not allow tax payer’s money being used to fund a campaign in support or opposition of a ballot measure.  Weigel said they could spend the tax payer’s money up until they actually vote to put the item on the ballot.)

Weigel said they would take a 4 step approach.

1.  12 plus months prior to the election they would define the most likely case, get the experts to sign off, create a 500 word argument, analyze voters and identify and create a key influential citizens data base.

2.  Share the needs assessment with the community through community outreach, the key influencers, and active voter households.  Direct mail and public meetings would also be used.

3.  Adoption of the ballot question.

4.  Campaign – through all the work above key citizens would be identified and tapped to create the organization for the campaign which would include community events, yard signs, direct mail, literature drops, letters to the editor, print ads, radio, GOTV, and social media.

Jim Taylor wondered whether or not it would be a problem if Littleton would be surveying voters at the same time as So Sub and/or LPS.  Weigel said no.

Weigel told the council that “sunset”  provisions are good to use and it is worth doing since TABOR would not require them to call it a tax increase when they go back to the voters to ask them to retain the original increase for another period of years.  Taylor wanted to know if there was a magic number of years to ask for before it would sunset and Weigel said anywhere between 5 and 10 years.  Debbie Brinkman  said they would only have one bite at the apple and Weigel said there are events that are out of anyone’s control and if they see “things” that won’t work and there is not enough room for adjustments then they would advise the city to wait another year.  Weigel said most people in real life can get one thing – not an A. and/or B. question so they would advise to go forward with the ideal then come back with a variation.

Peggy Cole wanted to know if they were looking at this Fall.  Weigel said they would prefer more time but it was possible.  Taylor wanted to know if the number of questions on the ballot makes a difference to the possible passage.  Weigel they don’t usually get the luxury – it is hard to break through in a presidential year election.  However Colorado has an intelligent electorate and they don’t get the same dynamic as in other places.  There have been some years when there was so much mail that it all went in the trash.

Taylor believes it is time to go to the voters for more money for streets.  Bruce Stahlman concurred but wanted to see an inventory of the streets to know what is needed in the way of dedicated tax money.  Brinkman said it helps to be specific – which streets need repair.  Weigel said the council may see a problem with the condition of the streets but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the citizens see the same.  So the message would be the need to be to enhance the roads for safer turn lanes, pedestrian crossings; sometimes citizens will spend more for what they see as an additional benefit.  People get used to what they have so you have to make sure you are offering something that will be seen as a benefit for the voters.

Brinkman did not see that there was time to go in 2013.  Cole thought they could go in 2013 but limit the duration to 5 years to address the needs for the primary and secondard streets.  Weigel said people are aware of the low interest rates so the bond rationale is enhanced.  The question can be posed as one where the council is being a good steward of the taxpayer’s money by taking advantage of the low interest rates.  But, people want results right away.  Beckman asked about how long they would need to wait before going back to the taxpayer’s if the first attempt at increasing taxes fails.  Weigel said  you can tell the citizens that you heard them through community outreach but it is hard to go back with the same question.  If you reconsider the question you could go back the next year.

Phil Cernanec said the big issue according to the surveys was downtown parking – roads were not mentioned.  He thought there should be taxes raised to work on the downtown parking problem but applying a special sales tax on marijuana (MJ) was the only option he saw.

Taylor wanted to close out the discussion on increasing property taxes before going on to discuss a MJ tax.  Jerry  Valdes thought they needed specifics; without them it is difficult to know.  Beckman said they really need to to their homework in advance of an election and there was not time.  Brinkman said she was not saying it was not a good idea but they need solid information and they don’t have the time.

Penny said they could talk about tradeoffs in their budget discussions for 2014.   Valdes said he would prefer to study and then determine than to try and back into a property tax increase – that is the wrong way to do it.  Penny told them they needed to lay it out so they are not backing into something.  Council can go out to the community and talk about all the needs and ask them if they would support a revenue increase – you may want to do a scattergram survey.   Valdes said their responsibility is for the infrastructure of the city.  We have things we pay for that are not part of our responsibility.  He did not need a poll about raising taxes to pay for those things not required.

Cole changed the subject – she did not want to raise the tax on recreational MJ so high that it would send the sale of MJ underground or purchased elsewhere.  Maybe the taxes on MJ will offset some of those community programs.

Penny thought the council could move forward with a lodging tax, a MJ tax, and charter changes in 2013.  Taylor said to tax the hell out of MJ but they need to know what the state will be doing about recreational MJ.  Most communities around us will prohibit the sales and he does not want to do that.  Stahlman said he had no compunction about taxing the stuff but thought it was more of a regional issue and that everyone should decide what rate to tax.  Brinkman said it was a cash business and good luck on collecting any taxes.  Valdes said he did not see the concern.  Tax it like we tax alcohol.  If a specific tax rate is not set for MJ then it will be taxed just as any other retail item?  Taylor wants to see a higher tax rate on MJ.  Beckman mentioned the tyranny of the minority – all taxes are subject to scrutiny.

Beckman thought people are supportive of a lodging tax.  The people that pay it don’t live here and those against it are the business owners who see it a just another thing for them to survive.  Brinkman said we only have one relevant hotel.  Cole thought the low income “hotels” should be excluded from the tax – can we target a certain sector?  Stahlman said people are accustomed to paying the tax.  It was mentioned that a lodging tax may raise $50,000 to $90,000.

Cole thought the charter cleanup changes should be put on a ballot when there are not too many things on the ballot.

Taylor moved the subject to the direct election of the mayor.  (Right now we elect 4 councilors, one from each district, and 3 councilors at-large.  At the first meeting of the newly seated council an election is held among them for the President of the Council.  Many refer to the President of the Council as Mayor.)  Taylor would support the idea and could see Littleton divided into 6 districts rather than the 4.  But the change to elect the mayor would need to be made at the same time districts changed.  Cole liked the current practice as spelled out in the charter.  Brinkman supported the city wide election for mayor and it should be for a 4 year term and not 2 years.  She thought longevity should be in that position and asked staff to bring back information on what other cities are doing.  Valdes said he was not concerned about what other cities are doing.  He liked the idea of being able to change the mayor after two years if they weren’t doing a good job.  He did not realize there was an issue around the way they currently select mayor.  Beckman said he wanted to learn more.  Brinkman said the last 3 mayor choices she has been involved in were very unpleasant – a lot of behind the scenes meetings – a popular decision rather than an objective decision and she wants to raise it above that and let the citizens decide.  Cole said whatever happened in the past behind the scenes is a problem with the people involved.  We need to focus on the problem and the behavior rather than changing the way we do things.  Brinkman asked what the harm would be to ask the citizens to make the choice.  Valdes said the citizens have the choice – they vote for the councilors.  He was not concerned about it.  Brinkman said the current process does not lend itself to a pure intent.   Valdes thought it would give lopsided power to one person.  Brinkman disagreed.  Cole said the President of the Council is to preside over the meetings and facilitate the will of the council.  Brinkman disagreed.  Cole asked why it is that council cannot manage their own problems – it is a problem of individuals.  Valdes likes the current flat organization.  Stahlman asked if there were any advantages to changing the process of selecting the mayor.  Brinkman thought there was – when there is a mayor representing Littleton that has been elected by the citizens that there is a value in that – there is a difference but the current process does not diminish our standing in any of the meetings.  Brinkman asked if there was any support to have staff look into what others are doing.

Stahlman could see potential advantages.  Beckman thought the character of the election would be very different….those running for mayor would talk about their vision for the city and he is not sure it is necessary.  He did not want to change the structure of the districts but was interested in the models.  Cole said if they have weaknesses they need to address them.  Taylor thought the direct election of the mayor may bring out multiple candidates talking about their vision of Littleton and that does not happen now.  The public would elect the vision which then could be advanced.  Cernanec thought they had other things to spend their time and to compare themselves to other communities with larger populations was without purpose.  Valdes said it wasn’t broken – what are we trying to fix and he preferred to spend time on other things.  Stahlman, Beckman, Taylor and Brinkman were in favor of further consideration.

2013 03.26.2013 Penny Memo on ballot measures

2 Responses

  1. Good info. Thank you. Tom K

  2. Nice spread, next time it’s dinner with city council and city staff !

    While scallops wrapped in bacon are good all by themselves, where is the champagne
    Marie Antoinette said let them eat cake, so where is it ?

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