Cripple Creek voters can decide fate of proposed sales tax hike


Rick Langenberg

In an active session of public workshops, Cripple Creek City Council gave the initial green light last week to a proposed one-cent sales tax hike, in an aggressive effort to generate more revenue with visitors.

That ballot plan, coupled with a pending vote on the possible green light to allow recreational marijuana, could pave the way for one of the most important municipal elections for Cripple Creek this fall.

Although no formal vote took place last week, elected leaders strongly supported a proposal made by the city’s Chief Financial Officer, Paul Harris, which justifies a small sales tax hike during a council workshop. If approved by voters, that means the city’s total sales tax would be just over 3%, well below what’s applicable in other mountain communities. The proposed increase in additional sales tax will generate an additional $300,000 to $350,000 per year.

Ultimately, the final decision rests with the voters of Cripple Creek.

But the groundwork has been laid for a penny tax hike on all goods and services except food. Harris noted that Cripple Creek lags behind other communities in the form of sales taxes.

With potential business growing in the community and an impending development boom, he sees it as a way to operate more like a traditional town and not rely on revenue from just one industry. In the case of Cripple Creek, this equates to a heavy reliance on gaming device fees.

However, since the advent of COVID, local casinos are operating with fewer wagering devices, compared to the pre-epidemic era.

Harris got no argument from the city council, which clearly approved the ballot proposal. “There’s no part of it that’s bad,” Councilman Mark Green said.

“This is long overdue,” said Pro Tem Mayor Tom Litherland, who highlighted the infrastructure challenges the city faces.

At the same time, he and other elected leaders noted that the proposal could amount to “an uphill (election) battle” due to inflation concerns.

Taxpayer Bill of Rights requirements for posting ballots are also at issue for the city. Leaders worry that the imposed language on the ballot will put the city at a disadvantage from the start.

Still, sales tax levies generally fare much better than property tax plans, depending on voter reaction.

“It’s a better form of tax,” Harris said. He said residents wouldn’t foot the bill and that this type of tax would collect revenue from visitors and players.

He conceded that this proposal will require a lot of lobbying from city council members and community leaders. These types of proposals sometimes take several years to garner an upvote, Harris noted.

The November 2022 election, however, is expected to draw large voters due to a number of important races on the national and state front.

Another possible vote that could spice up the ballot even more is a much-discussed plan to allow recreational marijuana operations within city limits (see related article)


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