The next mayor of Parker will be charged with leading the town out of a pandemic that has caused widespread business closures.
The three candidates, Joshua Rivero, Jeff Toborg and Jonathan Bollefer, differ in their economic development strategies, but agree the pandemic provides a unique opportunity for the town.
Parker’s main source of revenue, like other Colorado municipalities, comes from sales taxes. The town’s 2020 sales tax growth rate is much lower than the town has experienced on a year-to-date (YTD) basis. The YTD growth rate through September 2020 is 6.5% and has been declining over the past several months.
The town is currently reviewing a proposed budget for 2021.
In any other time, Parker is at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting sales tax dollars to the town, compared to Castle Rock or Lone Tree. Those two municipalities have shopping malls that draw customers from Colorado Springs to Denver and are located along I-25, bringing dollars from folks passing through.
However, the pandemic has boosted the town’s “lunchtime” population, something Parker staff and officials have yearned for years. People working from home are staying in town throughout the day, giving the town daytime vibrancy it has never seen.
Mayoral candidates are hoping to seize on this opportunity.
But before the town thinks about its financial future, Bollefer said, a few things need to happen first.
“First and foremost, to address anything financial, we have to talk about the health and safety of those businesses and business owners,” Bollefer said. “Saying we need to do this pragmatically doesn’t mean we don’t open the economy completely, but understand there’s a risk if we open up too quickly.”
Bollefer added that attracting small businesses also means providing means for small business owners and employees to operate in Parker, referring to the town’s relatively high cost of living compared to other similar-sized communities in Colorado.
“It’s a double-edged sword. If we want these small businesses to come to Parker, we have to afford them the luxury of operating here as well,” Bollefer said. “What mom-and-pop shop is going to be able to afford to move down here? That’s a legitimate question. If we’re looking for these businesses to open shop, we have to make it affordable to do so.”
Bollefer said the town needs to have an open discussion around how best to incentivize potential business owners.
Rivero, the two-term councilmember, said his combined business and council experience will help guide the town’s development to bring more desirable businesses closer to where people live.
“I think we have an opportunity to revisit what it is we see as the norm,” Rivero said, referring to the prospect of working from home becoming more permanent. “We have on opportunity to think outside the box.”
Rivero, owner of Fika Coffee House in Parker, favors “intimate” commercial development, similar to the older Denver neighborhoods. Rivero gave his Fika location in the Idyllwilde neighborhood as an example.
“I think we can do that, even in the new suburban area,” Rivero said. “I’d like to see both the town, with our redevelopment ordinance, and I’d like our developers to come to us with new ideas. It’s very easy to do the same thing and stick with the status quo. Let’s do something different.”
Toborg agrees Parker’s economy, overall, is stronger, thanks to more people working from home, but added there is still work to be done to help small businesses recover.
“We are economically healthy,” Toborg said. “It’s the small businesses that are hurting that are still at 50% occupancy. Those are going to have to be the ones we’re going to have to deal with.”
Toborg pitched a few ideas to spur economic activity with the main goal being bringing more business to Parker. He proposed the town should offer a small business loan with a 0% interest rate and eliminate the town’s liquor license application fee of $500.
“We just by happenstance get businesses that want to come to Parker … and then we incentivize them after they’ve already decided to come to Parker with tax assistance programs,” Toborg said. “We need to bring in some of those higher-paying jobs and businesses.”