From the mayor to the fire department, the future of Golden is in voters’ hands this November.
Three City Council positions, including the mayor, are up for election Nov. 7, and the city will have two tax-related questions on the ballot. One asks for a 6-mill property tax increase to help fund the Golden Fire Department; the other asks for voters’ permission to use a $600,000 lodging tax surplus.
The city will have a third question to update general charter language to be more gender-neutral, such as “councilor” instead of “councilman.”
In Golden’s mayoral race, current Mayor Laura Weinberg is running for reelection, and four are running in opposition. They are Country Joe MacDonald, Heather Schneider, Charles Sturdavant and Waquim Filsaime.
The four candidates for District 1 Councilor are Matt Duncan, Jacob Luria, Lisa Vitry and Mary Weaver.
Those elected to City Council will be sworn in Jan. 9, according to City Clerk Monica Mendoza.
Property-tax ballot question
Golden’s property tax question will ask voters to approve a 6-mill increase, which would generate about $4.7 million for the Golden Fire Department in its first year.
City Manager Scott Vargo said that for residential property owners, the increase would equal roughly $35 per year per $100,000 of a property’s assessed value. So, for a $500,000 residence, the homeowner would pay an additional $175 in property taxes if the measure passed.
The formula would be different for non-residential properties, he clarified.
If passed, Vargo explained, these funds would help the Golden Fire Department recruit, train and retain personnel; improve response times by staffing two stations 24/7; and purchase necessary equipment.
Golden is a combination department of both paid and volunteer firefighters, although Vargo said it’s becoming harder to recruit and retain volunteers. Additionally, the department’s seen “increased demand and community expectation around the services” it provides, Vargo continued.
Specifically, if the measure passes, it’d help fund 14 positions, including firefighters and battalion chiefs.
Nine of these positions have been grant-funded, although funding for two of them have expired and funding for the other seven will expire in the next two years, Vargo said, adding that the city can’t reapply for those grants. So, to preserve these positions, the city must generate its own funding “if we want to maintain the momentum we’ve got.”
Currently, GFD receives general fund dollars, but doesn’t have any dedicated or earmarked tax revenues, Vargo said.
Instead of a property tax increase, the City Council considered a 0.45% sales tax option, but decided property tax revenues would be more stable year-to-year than sales tax revenues. Plus, other local departments are mostly funded by property taxes rather than sales taxes, Vargo added.
The city’s voter surveys earlier this year showed respondents generally supported either a sales tax or a property tax increase to help fund GFD.
Lodging tax surplus
In November 2021, Golden voters passed a 6% lodging tax to help address visitor impacts on the city and to fund capital improvement projects. The ballot language said the tax would generate $2 million in its first year, based on city officials’ estimates from 2020 and early 2021 data.
However, the tax officially generated $2.6 million in its first year, creating a surplus the city now needs voter approval to use because of the Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.
Vargo said the city theoretically could issue a refund, but because visitors — not residents — paid the tax, it’d be complicated in terms of practicality and equity.
If this surplus use is approved, Vargo explained the city will use the extra $589,000 for the same purposes as the other $2 million in revenues. This includes managing the Clear Creek corridor with trail improvements, code enforcement and more; providing community grants for 20 local nonprofits; and helping establish the Ore Cart shuttle system with Colorado School of Mines.
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