Denver voters weighed a dozen ballot measures about the city’s future this election, from sales tax increases to combat climate change and provide homelessness relief to deciding whether to lift the city’s pit bull ban and strengthen the Denver City Council’s power. All but one measure passed.
Below are the results as of 5 p.m. Thursday, according to the Denver Elections Division. Results will not be made official until at least Nov. 19.
2A: Sales tax increase to curb climate change — PASSED
Denverites agreed to increase sales taxes by 0.25%, or 2.5 cents on a $10 purchase, to generate roughly $40 million annually for programs aimed at reducing the city’s climate footprint. The measure, led by the Denver Climate Action Task Force, was carried with 64% of the vote Tuesday night.
The city will begin allocating in January 2021 the tax revenue on a monthly basis to renewable energy efforts, including “steep reductions” in fossil fuel consumption and “significant improvements” in air and water quality, the bill states. Half of the revenue will be dedicated directly to underserved communities with a “strong lens toward equity, race and social justice.” Food, water, fuel, medical supplies and feminine hygiene products are exempt from the tax.
2B: Sales tax hike to fund homeless relief programs — PASSED
Denver voters also raised sales taxes by 0.25% — or an average of $5.25 per household a month, according to the mayor’s office — to collect $40 million a year directed to housing, shelter and services to support job training and mental and physical health for people experiencing homelessness. Results showed the measure had garnered nearly 65% support, with 180,457 votes.
The measure was led by Denver City Councilwoman At-Large Robin Kniech and backed by Mayor Michael Hancock, who said the city is “pulling every lever available to help people and ensure that episodes of homelessness are brief and one-time occurrences.” There are more than 4,100 people experiencing homelessness in Denver, according to the latest Point-in-Time survey.
The new funding takes effect at the beginning of next year and will be used in the immediate term to help sustain the Department of Housing Stability’s COVID-19 emergency response.
Additionally in its first year, the sales tax revenue would help the city transition more people to existing housing as well as regrow its shelter capacity by more than a hundred beds. Denver’s shelters have been sliced by 56%, or about 1,200 beds, due to social distancing requirements, the housing department estimates.
2C: Professional services for the Denver City Council — PASSED
This charter amendment, led by Denver City Councilwoman At-Large Debbie Ortega, got the green light from voters, meaning City Council has the authority starting next year to hire professional services, including legal counsel, without needing approval from the executive branch. The measure had garnered nearly 55% of the vote by 11:30 p.m., results showed.
The need for this change has come to the forefront on multiple occasions, the council veteran said, including just a few years ago when council members were required to review a massive contract for the Great Hall Project at Denver International Airport. The deal ultimately went sour and cost nearly $184 million to terminate.
2D: Denver transportation department advisory board — PASSED
Voters approved a second charter amendment led by Ortega that will establish an advisory board for the city-run Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, which was created with voters’ approval last year. Measure 2D received 76% of the vote.
The Board of Transportation and Infrastructure will provide policy and operational strategy advice to the director, currently Eulois Cleckley, and review the proposed annual budget. The board will be made up of 19 people, all of whom will go unpaid. Six members will be appointed by the mayor, and 13 will be chosen by each of the 13 City Council members. Those selected to the board must live in the districts of their appointing council member and represent “a variety of interests, backgrounds and geography,” according to the bill.
2E: Denver City Council approval of mayoral appointments — PASSED
About 59% of voters, or 157,764 residents, chose to change the city charter to give the legislative branch more oversight of the executive branch, meaning council members would have the authority to approve 11 cabinet appointees, plus the sheriff, and fire and police chiefs. The initiative was spearheaded by Councilwomen Amanda Sawyer and Candi CdeBaca with the intent of ensuring more accountability and transparency within the city’s executive leadership.
The Hancock administration and several former council members, including Elbra Wedgeworth and Wellington Webb, opposed the measure, calling it nothing more than a “blatant power grab” and a “solution in search of a problem.”
2F: Removing outdated language from city charter — PASSED
Voters overwhelmingly approved another bill led by Sawyer to remove outdated language from the city charter to “modernize” the way the Denver City Council conducts public business. Tuesday night results showed Measure 2E had earned about 84.5% of the vote.
The need for this measure came to light at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, when council members said it became clear that the city charter could potentially restrict the body’s ability to do business during times of emergency. The goal is to remove overly prescriptive language to give the council more flexibility to adapt the way they meet in times of uncertainty.
2G: Expanding Denver City Council’s budgeting authority — PASSED
Denverites voted to approve this ballot measure — the second led by Kniech — that will give council members the authority to change the city’s budget mid-year. About 54.6% of voters were in favor of the bill, results show.
Denver’s governing document currently does not allow the Denver City Council to initiate a spending proposal, even with super-majority support, to address a pressing city need in the middle of a fiscal year that may not have been known or possible to take up during the annual budget process. If the mayor doesn’t agree that the spending proposal is urgent or approve of the proposed approach, funds may have to wait a full year to be addressed in the next regularly scheduled budget.
Critics of the proposal, including former City Councilwoman Jeanne Faatz, said the change could lead to “chaos” and may “destabilize the budget.”
2H: Closing the broadband gap — PASSED
Voters chose overwhelmingly to help bridge the city’s broadband divide. The measure had earned roughly 83% of the vote with 226,795 votes late Tuesday night.
The bill, pushed forward by Councilman Paul Kashmann, exempts the city from Senate Bill 152, which prevents municipalities from directly addressing broadband. The exemption will not devote any public dollars to broadband, but provide the possibility to examine all options to broadband service. Currently, Denver is tied to mainstream providers, such as CenturyLink and Comcast. “I don’t want Denver to necessarily go build its own broadband infrastructure and say, ‘To heck with Comcast.’ I don’t want to do that,” Kashmann said. “But what I want to be able to do is have more flexibility.”
2I: Clarification on the Clerk and Recorder’s appointees — FAILED
This ballot measure, led by Denver Clerk and Recorder Paul Lopez, would have allowed for the office to be restructured into three divisions, each with a director at the top. Lopez has said all high-ranking employees should be appointed, and this change would have let him appoint those people instead of having a mix of appointees and hired employees. The goal was clarity, and no impacts are anticipated to the city budget. As of 11:30 p.m., the measure had only received about 46% of the vote.
2J: Allowing pit bulls in Denver — PASSED
Denver voters have lifted the city’s pit bull breed ban after more than three decades. The measure had received 64.5% of the vote Tuesday night.
The bill was led by Councilman Chris Herndon and will establish a permitting system for pit bulls, breeds that include the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Starting in January, pit bull owners will need to obtain a “breed-restricted permit.” If no violations for the dog are recorded for three consecutive years, the pet owner will be allowed to register their pit bull like any other dog in Denver. The measure was vetoed by Hancock earlier this year for safety reasons.
4A: Raising property taxes for Denver Public Schools staff — PASSED
Denverites overwhelmingly supported approving a property sales tax increase that will raise $32 million for Denver Public Schools to support mental health, nursing, special education and teacher compensation. Ballot Measure 4A had garnered nearly 74% of the vote as of 10 p.m.
About $15 million from tax revenue will be allocated to DPS employees, including a minimum wage increase of $14.77 an hour and cost of living increases for teachers.
4B: Bond measure for Denver Public Schools improvements — PASSED
Voters also overwhelmingly passed a measure that will increase the district’s debt up to $795 million in bonds, with a maximum repayment cost of $1.5 billion, to fund capital improvement projects for schools. Nearly 80% of voters were in favor of the bill.
The project will also include a rebuild or remodel of the Montbello High School campus and $31.7 million in school funds to invest in communal spaces like classrooms, cafeterias, playgrounds, libraries, gyms and auditoriums.