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Homeless Coalition Pushing Tax Increase To Alleviate 'Crisis'

DENVER (CBS4) - Some Denver voters will soon be asked how they would feel about paying increased sales taxes, property taxes and other taxes to raise $50 million to $55 million a year to support Denver's homeless population. The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless said Tuesday they are hiring a pollster to begin the process of getting a tax increase on the November 2020 ballot.

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"We really want to explore as many options as possible so voters can tell us whats the most palatable to them," said Cathy Alderman, Vice President of Communications and Public Policy for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

She said the agency plans to have a polling firm in place in February to begin surveying Denver voters about a potential tax increase.

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Cathy Alderman (credit: CBS)

"I don't think anyone could go outside and walk around and think we are spending enough in that area" she said.

Voters will be asked how they feel about each of the following:

  • A potential sales tax increase of ¼ of 1% or an extra .25 cents for every $100 spent
  • At least doubling Denver's Occupational Privilege Tax also known as the head tax. Currently employers pay $4 per month for each employee and the workers themselves are liable for a fee of $5.75 per month.
  • Increasing Denver property taxes
  • Reallocating or increasing marijuana taxes to support the homeless

Estimates are that the city of Denver currently spends about $50 million per year on homeless services and other charities, and nonprofits contribute another $90 million, according to a 2019 report. Alderman says that's not enough to help out the more than 5,300 people in metro Denver who are homeless.

She says on an annual basis, at least another $55 million is needed for programs and services, expanding shelter operations, housing subsidies and rental assistance.

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Following the February polling, Alderman said she hopes Denver City Council will work on a ballot issue in April and May. She said if council balks at a proposed tax hike, the coalition itself will likely try to get enough signatures to put a tax increase on the November 2020 ballot.

"I don't think the money we're spending isn't working," said Alderman. "It just hasn't kept up with the pace of growth."

She said if the proposed tax increase is approved, spending of the money would be left up to the city's Department of Housing Stability.

Derek Friedman, who owns several downtown retail stores, said business owners are essentially already paying the equivalent of a higher tax to deal with homelessness in the form of fewer people shopping and decreased revenues because shoppers don't feel safe, increased security costs and difficulty recruiting and retaining workers who don't always feel safe downtown.

He said he is not opposed to an increased sales tax to alleviate the problems.

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"As long as there is firm and clear accountability and very firm goals. And if the goals aren't achieved, the tax goes away."

Friedman said he believed increasing the head tax didn't make sense since the minimum wage in Denver was just increased, and increasing the head tax would be a financial hardship for the very employees who just saw their wages go up.

Alderman said there have been ongoing, informal discussions with some Denver city council members about a tax increase. She said she believed this was an appropriate time to ask voters to increase taxes to support the homeless although she said, "I anticipate some push back and lively debates and discussion. But we think it's time to come together as a community and do better."

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