Denver considers new trash fee, watering less
Associated Press Writer
DENVER, Colorado- To close a $120 million budget shortfall, Denver is considering charging a new $10 fee for trash collection, cutting back on pothole repairs and keeping non-violent offenders out of jail.
During his annual “State of the City” speech, Mayor John Hickenlooper warned Tuesday that all residents would feel the effect of the cuts – fueled by a 12.7 percent drop in sales tax revenue.
The city has been surveying residents about which reductions they would prefer and Hickenlooper will present his plans to the city council next month.
Officials say even watering parks less frequently and planting perennials instead of annuals are on the table.
Despite the recession, Hickenlooper said the city should push ahead with plans to renovate its historic train station as well as expand light rail service, a project which would likely require a sales tax increase. He compared those projects to the building of a new airport during the 1990s despite economic problems.
“It’s that ability of our community to see beyond the problems of today and look toward the hope and promise of tomorrow that makes our city and our region different,” he said at Civic Center Park.
Originally the city had been looking to cut $70 million but last week Hickenlooper announced that a total of $120 million in cuts would be needed following eight straight months of declining sales tax revenue. Sales tax accounts for about half of the city’s income.
So far, city workers are being furloughed for four days this year. Crews have been brought in to clean main city offices during the day, allowing the building’s lights to be turned off earlier and saving on security costs.
Homeowners would have pay for trash collection for the first time under the cuts being considered by the city. Property owners could be charged $50 for false fire alarms and recreation fees could be raised. Another option on the list is sentencing non-violent offenders to home detention and probation rather than putting them in jail.
On Tuesday, Hickenlooper said he doesn’t want to lay off any workers but said cutting pay or rearranging the work week are possibilities.
He declared that Denver was poised to attract new businesses once investors feel comfortable spending their money again. He said the city will benefit from a reputation for innovation and quality of life which he said was promoted during last year’s Democratic National Convention.
He referred to his own experience of getting laid off as a geologist during the oil and gas bust in 1986. He went on to open the city’s first brewpub in a now trendy part of downtown before opening a series of restaurants and running for mayor.
There are harsh realities confronting the city but also opportunities to emerge stronger than before the recession, Hickenlooper said.
“This is not a time for foolish optimism,” Hickenlooper said.
Economist Tucker Hart Adams said metro Denver is facing problems of home foreclosures and office building vacancies just like other areas across the country. However, she said the problems are relatively less severe than in places like Las Vegas or Miami because real estate values didn’t rise as fast here.
“I think it’s correct to say that Denver will do as well or better than other metro areas coming out of the recession,” she said. “But it’s not going to happen next week, next month or next quarter.”