The state of Littleton is “pretty darn good,” said Mayor Kyle Schlachter before an audience May 4 that included Littleton city and school district staff, Arapahoe County commissioners and various community leaders.
Schlachter kicked off the 2022 State of the City, held at the Ashley Ridge wedding venue, with an optimistic tone for the city’s future.
“The opportunities ahead are just fantastic and amazing and I’m looking forward to seeing what the next year brings to Littleton,” Schlachter said.
The morning assembly gave officials an opportunity to tout some of the most impactful city-wide initiatives of the past year, which include passing a sales tax increase to fund infrastructure projects, approving a new land-use code and making investments with federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Speaking on the new land-use code, known as the Unified Land Use Code (ULUC), Kathleen Osher, director for community development, celebrated the city’s adoption of new zoning guidelines for the first time in more than 40 years.
“This code is all about what the city wants to see happen. Our previous code was more about what was prohibitive,” Osher said, adding the code will be treated as a “living document” with future refinements.
The city is also rebounding from years of weathering economic uncertainty, partly exacerbated by COVID-19. A city report released in early 2022 showed that sales and use taxes were up from last year. Retail taxes are up about 24% from the same time last year, according to Cindie Perry, director for economic development.
City staff also said they averted a financial crisis last year when voters approved a sales tax increase, known as Ballot Issue 3A, which will help fund much-needed infrastructure projects over the coming years.
Sean Walsh, a political consultant hired by the city to lead the push to pass 3A, thanked the nine candidates who ran for city council in the November 2021 election for being united behind 3A.
“3A was not a political football,” Walsh said. “All nine candidates … they were unified on 3A and they carried that message door-to-door.”
Without the sales tax boost, officials projected the city’s infrastructure fund would hit $0 by 2025. With 3A’s passage, the city is estimated to raise about $9 million annually for the fund.
“The passage of something like 3A was really, really important to us as a community,” said Public Works Director Keith Reester, who said having millions on hand will allow the city to match grants for future projects.
Staff spoke on several other initiatives on the horizon for Littleton, such as expanding accessibility by making the city compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and asking voters if they would support creating a lodging tax to pay for arts and culture and establishing a Downtown Development Authority (which only downtown voters would weigh in on).
Other projects include spending $12 million in federal pandemic aid money on a variety of city services, such as the creation of a new book mobile to deliver library books to underserved communities.
Near the end of the address, Mayor Schlachter reminded attendees that City Manager Mark Relph would be retiring in a matter of weeks.
The city has been undergoing a search process to replace Relph and Schlachter said staff have received 78 applications. Semi-finalists will be interviewed next week, Schlachter said, with a decision “hopefully within a couple weeks.”
Relph, speaking before the crowd, called his tenure a “hell of a ride” and thanked the community for its support.
“Truly the greatest honor of my professional career,” Relph said.
As he looks to retirement, Ralph said he’s excited to spend time with friends. Quoting Mark Twain, Relph said, “he talks about age as simply mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”