Denver may want better sidewalks, but residents will be in for a huge surprise if they adopt Initiative 307 on this November’s ballot. Its funding mechanism is misleading, expensive and inequitable.
First, the proposal is based on a false premise that all property owners are responsible for repairing sidewalks that border their homes. Neighborhoods with “Hollywood” sidewalks, where the sidewalk and curb are one slab, are the responsibility of the city, not the property owner. Existing taxes and fees should continue to repair them.
Proponents have misled property owners as to the amount of the average fee a homeowner will pay. Based on a 50-foot midblock lot in an older neighborhood, their $107 annual calculation works. However Denver Geographic Information Systems (GIS) shows many newer areas have larger lots. If your home is in the middle of a newer block, $189 is a closer estimation.
If you are unlucky enough to live on a corner lot or your lot backs up to a major arterial street, you’re in for an even bigger surprise. Even the smallest $2.15 per-foot charge can result in a fee of $300 to $450. If you’re on an arterial corner, fees can be between $500 and $1,000 each year. Denver GIS can provide the linear measurements. Do the math!!
Renters, you are not off the hook. While the property owner will be billed for a potentially high fee, the cost of your share will surely be passed on to you. Result: your rent goes up!
Own a condominium? Same issue. Your homeowner’s association may receive the bill, but you as the owner will ultimately pay it. Your fees go up! Also special districts do not exempt you from paying this fee.
Initiative 307 sets a 9-year deadline to build missing sidewalks, repair poorly maintained sidewalks and widen narrow sidewalks in every part of the city. Given that enormous scope, the schedule simply cannot be met with the existing construction shortages in Denver. Delays and cost overruns are inevitable.
Some of the sidewalks mentioned for widening recently received federally-mandated accessible curb cuts to accommodate wheelchairs, walkers and strollers. Why should we tear out new construction our tax dollars have already funded?
This initiative authorizes new debt (revenue bonds) that the fees are supposed to cover. But like the fee itself, the bonds will have no ultimate ending date and can be issued and reissued forever and ever, as long as fees can be expected to cover the debt.
The initiative also allows fees to be increased every 5 years. If your fee is already high, it can get even worse.
This proposal treats homeowners inequitably. It provides a 20 percent discount to properties in certain Neighborhood Equity and Stabilization (NEST) neighborhoods where displacement and gentrification have allowed scrape-offs, increasing property values. Ironically, affluent households that contributed to that gentrification get the discount, but poor households in neighborhoods not yet designated as gentrified pay the full amount.
This proposal is grossly unfair to property owners who have already paid to replace or repair their own sidewalks. They get no credit for their expenditures and have to pay for everyone else’s sidewalks for many years to come.
There are other ways to tackle the sidewalk issue. In 2023 all of Denver’s properties will be reappraised for property tax purposes, and those values have increased. Voters should say “NO” to this sidewalk proposal and instead insist that elected officials dedicate more of the city’s steadily growing General Fund to sidewalks.
The Denver Post editorial board opposes the initiative, noting “some select homeowners could be hit very hard by this annual fee which is incredibly regressive.” They go on to say “We see too many flaws in the Denver Deserves Sidewalks proposals to support it at this time.”
You do not need to impose these inequitable fees on yourself and your neighbors. Please vote NO on initiative 307.
Jeanne Faatz is a former state representative, and served on the Denver City Council from 2003-2015.
Our unofficial motto at Complete Colorado is “Always free, never fake, ” but annoyingly enough, our reporters, columnists and staff all want to be paid in actual US dollars rather than our preferred currency of pats on the back and a muttered kind word. Fact is that there’s an entire staff working every day to bring you the most timely and relevant political news (updated twice daily) from around the state on Complete’s main page aggregator, as well as top-notch original reporting and commentary on Page Two.
CLICK HERE TO LADLE A LITTLE GRAVY ON THE CREW AT COMPLETE COLORADO. You’ll be giving to the Independence Institute, the not-for-profit publisher of Complete Colorado, which makes your donation tax deductible. But rest assured that your giving will go specifically to the Complete Colorado news operation. Thanks for being a Complete Colorado reader, keep coming back.