From sales tax increases intended to help the homeless and combat climate change to deciding whether to lift the city’s pit bull ban and strengthen the Denver City Council’s power, Denver voters have a lot to consider about Denver's future this November.
This year’s stacked lineup is as follows:
2A: Climate Funding
This measure will ask voters if their sales taxes should be raised by 0.25%, or 2.5 cents on a $10 purchase, to generate $40 million annually to reduce the city’s climate footprint. If approved, the city would 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 would be dedicated directly to underserved communities with a “strong lens toward equity, race and social justice,” and exemptions for food, water, fuel, medical supplies and feminine hygiene products would be built into the legislation.
2B: Funding to address homelessness
Similar to the proposed climate tax, this question will ask Denverites to raise sales taxes by 2.5 cents for every $10 spent — 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. The issue 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.
2C: Professional services for the Denver City Council
If approved, this city charter amendment, led by Denver City Councilwoman At Large Debbie Ortega, would grant City Council the authority to hire professional services, including legal counsel, without needing a green light from the executive branch upstairs. The need, she says, has come to the forefront on multiple occasions, 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, which ultimately went sour and cost nearly $184 million to terminate. This bill is one of a series on the ballot that would empower the city’s legislative branch.
2D: DOTI advisory board
A second charter amendment led by Ortega would create an advisory board for the city-run Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, which was created with voters’ approval last year. The Board of Transportation and Infrastructure would 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
Part of a series of ballot questions that would give the legislative branch more oversight of the executive branch, this charter change would give council members the authority to approve 11 cabinet appointees, plus the sheriff, and fire and police chiefs. The initiative is spearheaded by Councilwomen Amanda Sawyer and Candi CdeBaca with the intent of ensuring more accountability and transparency within the city’s executive leadership. “Now more than ever, we owe it to our constituents to give them a more representative government,” Sawyer said.
2F: Removing outdated language from city charter
Another bill led by Sawyer, this ballot referral will remove outdated language from the city charter, first created in 1904 and has been updated over time, to modernize the way the Denver City Council conducts public business. The issue came to light during the coronavirus emergency, 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
Also part of Denver City Council’s effort to strengthen its own power, this ballot measure – the second led by Kniech – would give council members the authority to change the city’s budget mid-year. 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.
2H: Closing the broadband gap
Denver voters will be asked to decide whether to help bridge the city’s broadband divide. The bill, pushed forward by Councilman Paul Kashmann, would exempt the city from Senate Bill 152, which prevents municipalities from directly addressing broadband. The exemption, if passed, would 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
The ballot measure proposal, led by Denver Clerk and Recorder Paul Lopez, would allow for the office to be restructured into three divisions, each with a director at the top. Lopez’ thinking is that all high-ranking employees should be appointed, so this change will let him appoint those people instead of having a mix of appointees and hired employees. The goal is clarity, and no impacts are anticipated to the city budget.
2J: Allowing pit bulls in Denver
Denver voters will also decide whether to lift the city’s pit bull breed ban, beginning in January, after more than three decades. The bill is led by Councilman Chris Herndon and would establish a permitting system for pit bulls, breeds that include the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier. If approved, pit bull owners would need to obtain a “breed-restricted permit.” If no violations for the dog are recorded for three consecutive years, it would be allowed to register like any other dog in Denver. The measure was vetoed by Hancock earlier this year for safety reasons.
4A and 4B: Funding for Denver Public Schools
Denver Public Schools is asking voters whether to provide $827 million in more funding for the school system through bond and mill levy proposals. The bond measure would provide $795 million to build and maintain schools in the district. The second ballot initiative, called “Debt Free Schools,” would invest $32 million into mental health, nursing, special education and teacher compensation, with $15 million for DPS employees, including an increase in the minimum wage to $14.77 an hour and cost of living increases for teachers. The bond measure would help schools with maintenance, capacity, air conditioning, technology, 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.