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Home / Articles / Special Sections / Vote 2009 /  City of Boulder ballot questions
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Thursday, October 8,2009

City of Boulder ballot questions

Vote 2009

Ballot Issue 2A

Vote Yes.

This measure would continue an existing sales and use tax of 0.15 percent indefinitely to fund city services such as the police force, fire protection, libraries, parks and human services. Currently, the tax is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2012. Proponents say that even though the bonds for which the tax was approved in 1993 will be paid off in 2012, if the tax is allowed to expire, the city will face a significant budget shortfall. A blue ribbon commission formed to study the city's major economic downturn in the first half of the decade recommended continuing existing sales taxes as the top priority for stabilizing the city's revenue.

Proponents say the tax needs to be continued to secure Boulder's financial future, to avoid a $3.7 million cut to the city's annual budget and additional cuts to core services. Opponents argue that continuing the existing tax is in fact a tax increase, since the tax is set to expire in 2012 and would ease the pressure on residents' pocketbooks. Secondly, they say that voters should not extend the tax indefinitely, but for a specific amount of time so that residents can revisit the issue in a certain number of years to see if the tax is still needed. Opponents also argue that it is misleading to say that the money will be used for things like police and fire services, since the revenue could just as easily be used for city council members' pet projects.

Boulder Weekly views the extension of existing sales taxes as perhaps the least invasive way of helping the city to maintain a stabile revenue stream. Though sales taxes are by nature regressive, meaning that they impact the poor more than those who are wealthy, there aren't a lot of options available to local governments when it comes to funding. The services funded by this tax are important services that are key to maintaining public safety and the quality of life we enjoy here in Boulder. Vote YES on Boulder Ballot Issue 2A.

Ballot Issue 2B

Vote Yes.

Issue 2B would authorize city debt of up to $33.45 million (with a maximum repayment cost of $80.86 million) in an effort to obtain more favorable interest rates and terms for bonds approved by voters in 1993 for open-space purchases. The measure would also allow the city to raise property taxes if revenue from the existing sales and use tax is not sufficient to make payments on the bonds. Proponents say chances are slim that property taxes would need to be raised, because the open space sales and use tax revenue has been adequate for making payments even in major economic downturns.

They argue that renegotiating the bonds could save the city between $2.7 million and $4.1 million over the life of the bonds, money that would be used for open-space purposes rather than lost to bondholders. Proponents also say that the $33.45 million is not an increase in city debt; it is the same amount voters approved when they passed the open space sales and use taxes. Opponents counter that the measure will likely result in increased property taxes, because city council wants to buy more open space and have two possible forms of revenue to pay it off instead of one. They argue that the council should be held accountable for limiting open-space purchases to the amount it can afford using the existing sales tax approved for that purpose.

Opponents also say that residents are being asked to foot the bill for both the city's and county's insatiable hunger for open space, which is then taken off the tax rolls. They add that if property taxes increase, renters will feel the pain, too, when landlords cover that cost by increasing the rent they charge.

Think about this as a way of refinancing debt. If Boulder can replace the 1993 bonds with lower interest debt, more of the money borrowed will actually go toward open space. Those who oppose this measure sound a bit like conspiracy theorists to us. Open space taxes have never been difficult to pass in Boulder. If the city wanted an additional source of funding, they could be open and honest about it. Chances are, this ballot issue is intended to do exactly what the fine print states. Though we would hate to see property taxes go up, we love the idea of saving $2.7 million or more in payments to bondholders. Vote YES on Boulder Ballot Issue 2B.

Ballot Issue 2C

Vote Yes.

This ballot issue would authorize the city to increase its debt by as much as $11.32 million (with a maximum repayment cost of about $26.6 million), without raising taxes, as an effort to establish a more predictable payment schedule for pensions paid to retired city police officers and fire fighters who were hired before April 8, 1978.

Proponents of the measure say the city's payments to the pension fund fluctuate, depending on market conditions, and that issuing these bonds will level out those payments. They say that the retirement program has been closed, that the pensions are paid to only a limited number of retirees, and that voter approval is required simply because the bond payments would be a multi-year obligation.

Opponents argue that the city doesn't have enough money to pay off its pension obligations, and that Boulder shouldn't be going into debt to pay off a current expense. They say the measure could further diminish the city's credit rating, and that city council should stop burdening taxpayers into the future by borrowing so much. Opponents say the city never should have authorized a pension obligation of that level, but they urge voters to keep city council from repeating the mistakes of the past.

Hey, those pensions were earned by people who worked hard to keep us (or maybe our parents) safe. Finding a stable way of making good on a debt that has already been accrued and is now due seems both fair and necessary to us. Vote YES on Ballot Issue 2C.

Ballot Issue 2D

Vote No.

Issue 2D would increase the affordable housing excise tax for new development and would shift the burden of paying that tax from residential development to commercial, industrial and institutional development. If the measure passes, the city council would be authorized to phase in the tax increase over at least five years, would be permitted to increase the tax based on a housing-cost index starting in 2015, and would be authorized to reduce or waive any portion of the tax when it is "in the public interest," the ballot language states. Proponents say that residential developers are already required to include affordable housing in their projects or pay an inclusionary housing fee, and that employers should bear some responsibility for helping their employees find affordable housing in Boulder.

Opponents say taxing commercial and industrial properties would be hostile to business and does not create a welcoming environment for companies to move to Boulder, create new jobs and boost tax revenues.

On this one, we agree with opponents.

Though affordable housing is an important issue in this town, Boulder doesn't need to position itself as a city that's hostile to business, particularly in these economic times. Vote NO on Ballot Issue 2D.

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