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Opinion: Denver is nickel-and-diming its most vulnerable residents with fees

The city should dig into its existing budget to pay for what it wants

Coloradans are facing a growing avalanche of new and increased fees that local governments and utilities are using to slowly but surely pick our pockets.

Wellington Webb

Every month these fees chip away especially hard on the working poor and senior citizens on fixed incomes who barely can survive. These fees, along with higher food and gas prices, impact the middle class as well.

Often we don’t know our pockets have been picked until our bills arrive.

Let me give you just a few examples.

The Denver City Council recently approved fees on trash collection for the first time in the city’s history. Denver voters also will see a new proposed fee for sidewalk repairs on the fall ballot.

So, Denver residents in 2023 will pay $9 a month for a small garbage bin (35 gallons), $13 for a medium bin (65 gallons) and $21 a month for a large bin (95 gallons). For someone on a fixed income, $108 a year for trash removal is a big hit.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

I’m not impressed with the city pushing the fee dressed up as a way to increase recycling. Denver residents often gripe about how our city has gotten dirty from trash in the last decade, but let’s not charge for trash collection and instead make cleaning up the city — especially downtown Denver — a priority with existing general budget funds.

If this trash fee had been on the November ballot, it surely would have failed.

The sidewalk fee proposal on the ballot would cost the average single-family home on a local street, with a 50-foot property frontage, about $107.50 a year. I don’t disagree that sidewalk repairs are necessary, but again, the city should budget for this expense instead of tacking on another fee.

There also is a petition drive to put on the fall ballot a new tax in Denver on marijuana, which is basically a tax that statewide voters already rejected. That means Denver residents would pay a higher tax on marijuana than their neighbors. There’s still a lot of unanswered questions on this one.

Now, I’m pleased the library district’s idea to replace the Denver Public Library was dropped, because there has been enough attempts to take power away from Mayor Michael Hancock and the institution of mayor. Denver has a strong-mayor form of government that has benefited the city for decades.

If a mayor doesn’t have the institutional controls to manage the government, you might as well have a city manager because authority and power has been shifted to the City Council.

I would support a mill levy increase that helps the libraries but keeps the mayor’s power intact.

Meanwhile, Coloradans are dealing with increased fees already showing up on electric and water bills. The average electric bill for Xcel Energy’s residential customers increased $5.24 a month. This 6.4% increase was approved in April by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

Then, this summer, the Commission gave Xcel approval to collect a half billion dollars from its customers to cover the spiraling costs of natural gas during a winter cold snap in 2021.

Gov. Jared Polis didn’t like the Xcel increase. He can’t stop it, but maybe he will appoint new members to the commision who support consumers.

Late last year, the Denver Water Board also approved a rate increase. Most single-family residential customers, depending on where they live, have seen an increase in their monthly bill by a range of about 47 cents to $1.34.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

An increase of $100 here and $100 there and the financial hole gets deeper and deeper for our most vulnerable residents, along with many middle-class households.

Individuals and families are having to make tough choices as inflation hits us all. We should expect our elected officials to do the same.

Instead of burying our residents with an avalanche of new and increased fees, sharpen your pencils and find a way to get these needs done in the general budgets.


Wellington Webb, of Denver, is president of Webb Group International, and was mayor of Denver from 1991 to 2003.


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