Brighton Police Chief Matt Domenico laid out his request for a dedicated $1.9 million in new taxes devoted to public safety Feb. 28.
“We have had a pretty significant increase in population size in the last ten years, about a 20% increase,” Domenico told City Councilors during their Feb. 28 study session. “During that time, demands on law enforcement have consistently gone up.”
City Councilors are considering putting the matter before voters in November. If voters agree, the city would create a new tax — either a 0.15% sales tax or a 2.5 mill rate property tax. Either would generate about $1.9 million that would be dedicated to public safety for hiring new officers and support staff to respond to the growing needs of Brighton.
If voters approve on the Nov. 2023 ballot, one version of the tax would begin in 2024.
Domenico said new technology, like body-worn cameras, have increased staff time. Videos from the cameras need to be reviewed, cataloged and archived while calls for service to a wider area demand more officers' time. The department has a need for new officers, but also support staff to help.
“One of the benchmarks that is frequently used by law enforcement across the nation is 'officers per thousand,'“ Domenico said. “And generally, what you are looking for is about two, 2.5 officers per thousand (residents). Based on our current population estimate, we are at about 1.8 officers per thousand, well below the national average and well below the Denver metro average as well.”
City Manager Michael Martinez said he tasked staff to come up with ideas to help pay for police. Finance Director Catrina Asher said they came up with two options for councilors to review.
If councilors agree to move forward, the city would look for volunteers to serve on an outreach committee that would begin discussing the idea with residents over the summer. Councilors would need to settle on a tax and ballot language by September to get it on the 2023 ballot.
Councilors at the Feb. 28 study session were resigned to the idea.
“It's obvious we are going to have to do something,” Councilor Mary Ellen Pollack said. “We are growing, crime is growing. And no thanks to the legislature, crime is just going to get worse. We have to keep up with the messes they make - sorry, that's just how I feel. Nobody wants to have their taxes raised, but public safety is a priority.”
Sales or property tax
But councilors could not agree on which tax they preferred. Both have their positives, Asher said.
“There are a lot of similarities, but some key differences,” she said. “Any increase in taxes would require voter approval, so there is a process for both that is very similar.”
Sales taxes fall on people who live in the city but also on people who shop in Brighton, buy gas or pay for services here. Property taxes largely fall on property owners.
Asher said city staff favors the property tax. A $2.50 mill rate increase would push Brighton's property tax rate to $9.15 mills for every $1,000 of assessed property value. That's still lower than most of the city's neighbors, she said, including Thornton, Northglenn, Dacono and Fort Lupton. It would increase property taxes on a $539,000 home by about $90 per year.
“In terms of resiliency, property taxes are a nice steady option,” she said. “Property taxes are tied to the value of our properties and those typically do not go down. They are typically very stead and very predictable.”
Councilor Peter Padilla said he favored the 0.15% sales tax, which — along with county and state sales taxes — would push Brighton's sales tax rate up to 8.65% and would increase costs by 15 cents for every $100 spent.
“While I'm supportive of either path, my argument for sales taxes would be that the sales are where the growth is coming from and that's what is bringing the public safety issues to the community,” Padilla said. “And, the people that are coming to the community are benefiting from the increased public safety.”
Councilor Jan Pawlowski agreed that a sales tax increase makes more sense.
“You know, property values may increase but that doesn't mean that the people have more money, substantially,” she said. “We've encouraged economic development along 120th and there hopefully will be more businesses coming in. I just think Iean more towards a sales tax than a property tax.”
Councilors would need to approve moving forward, creating the outreach committee and paying for the November election.