Election 2021: Sales tax plan takes center stage in Littleton council candidate forum

Council candidates see more city funds as crucial


Candidates vying for a seat on Littleton City Council in the upcoming citywide election made their case to voters Sept. 18 during a candidate forum. But while council hopefuls were eager to pitch their visions for the city, much of their time was focused on emphasizing a critical concern: Littleton needs more money.

Tucked in a small backroom of the Wilmore Nursery Garden Center, nine candidates, some seeking reelection, spoke to dozens of community members on issues ranging from housing affordability to homelessness. Though candidates differed in their solutions, all were unified by the need for a sales tax increase to fund city infrastructure in the coming years.

“We are poised for excellent opportunity, if the tax initiative passes this fall,” said Candice Ferguson, candidate for District 1, which encompasses downtown Littleton. “We are mission-critical on that issue.”

Voters will have the choice in the November election to approve a 0.75% sales tax increase that is projected to raise about $9 million annually for Littleton's capital projects fund. Without the tax, city officials say, the fund will completely run out of money by 2025, leaving the city unable to pay for vital infrastructure work.

Pat Driscoll, a current councilmember for District 1 who is running for re-election, championed the proposed tax increased, known as 3A, and said he pushed hard to get the measure on the ballot.

“What that really means to you in dollars and cents: Today you pay $3 on 100 bucks, and we're going to ask for $3.75,” Driscoll said.

Driscoll pledged that should the measure pass the city would establish an accountability board made up of community members that city officials would report to about how the money is being spent.

Carol Fey, who is running for mayor and who also hosted the forum, said the tax increase is “in the hands of the voters.”

“One thing I have to say about that is I could fix things a lot faster if there's more money,” Fey said to a crowd that met her with mild laughter.

Though the issue of 3A united candidates, other topics prompted differing approaches.

How ambitious the city should be in development while grappling with preservation were key issues for the two District 3 candidates, Stephen Barr and Paul Bingham. District 3 encompasses much of south Littleton.

Barr said financial investments need to extend far beyond just roads.

“It also means investing in those families and those schools, giving folks a place to live,” he said, adding that investment in affordable housing, education and the environment will set up the next generation for success.

Bingham pitched a more restrained approach to investments.  Calling himself “middle of the road,” Bingham said he would support “reasonable development” as long as it is in the right places.

Krista Kafer, who is running for an at-large seat, called Littleton a city where “you could live your whole life and never leave,” citing an abundance of events and local shopping.

“I'm going to preserve those things that we love about our city,” she said before adding that Littleton has opportunity to grow, such as with housing.

Kafer also touched on homelessness, framing the issue as a threat to safety and security.

“I don't want children to have to step over needles when they're in our parks,” she said. “Those folks that really need help, that find themselves in a homeless situation, (let's) get them help. But for those who want to live in that situation that don't need help, they need to move on. This is not a community for folks who want to do urban camping.”

Along with ideas around city investments, candidates also spoke of the need to secure state and federal funds as well.

Gretchen Rydin, who is also running for an at-large seat, said Littleton needs to ensure it receives a slice of Colorado's $400 million that was part of a $26 billion multi-state settlement with drug companies for their role in the opioid epidemic.

“Almost everybody knows someone (who is struggling with substance abuse) and we need to be sure we're supporting them,” Rydin said.  

Following candidates' presentations, attendees were given the chance to mingle and speak with candidates one-on-one.

Bebe Kleinman, CEO of Doctors Care, which provides affordable healthcare to low-income populations in the south-metro area, said she is excited about certain candidates' ability to look to the fture.

“What I want to see is what can we do as a city to make it attractive to younger people, the next generation,” she said. “And that does speak to affordable housing, good infrastructure … I think the focuses on mental health concerns for the population are really important.”

The upcoming election will also be the first in which voters directly choose their mayor, as opposed to the position being filled by a council vote.

Kyle Schlachter, candidate for mayor, highlighted his experience as chair of the Littleton Invests for Tomorrow board and said he would bring respect to the council as mayor.

Jon Buck, also a mayoral candidate, said it is a "critical time" for Littleton and highlighted further infrastructure funding as a vital need.

Still, while candidates were able to touch on their own hopes for the city, the need to secure more taxpayer funds lingered over candidates' ambitions.

Sean Walsh, a political consultant who lives in Littleton and is leading the charge for the Yes on 3A campaign, said if the tax increase fails to pass, councilmembers will have no choice but to make some “devastating cuts.”

Littleton has not raised its sales tax in almost 50 years, according to Walsh.

“If the situation weren't urgent, they wouldn't be doing it,” he said in reference to council members' open support for the measure. “Every city's lifeblood is sales tax.”

Ballots will be mailed to voters beginning the week of Oct. 8. Election day is Nov. 2.


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