Denver sidewalk fee supporters declare victory with Initiated Ordinance 307 up more than 24k votes

Denver election workers still have roughly 32,000 ballots to count from Tuesday’s midterm election but supporters of Initiated Ordinance 307, the sidewalk tax measure, finally feel confident enough to declare victory in the tightest race in the city this cycle.

The Denver Elections Division counted votes through the weekend to get through a logjam after spokesman Alton Dillard estimated that half of the roughly 281,000 ballots cast in Denver in the election came in on Monday and Tuesday.

As of unofficial results released at 5 p.m. Sunday, Initiated Ordinance 307 is now leading with 55.2% of the vote. It’s passing by 24,567 votes with almost 90% of all ballots now counted, according to the update.

That was enough for the Denver Deserves Sidewalks campaign that supported 307 to see a clear path to victory.

“We are excited that Denverites have voted for a more equitable, fair, and safe city for everyone,” Jill Locantore, executive director of the Denver Streets Partnership, said in a statement Sunday after the updated results were posted. “We look forward to working with City Council and the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure to ensure successful implementation of the program.”

Ordinance 307 will overhaul how Denver handles sidewalk repair and installation. Previously, any sidewalk work was the financial responsibility of homeowners and other property owners. With limited assessments and enforcement of sidewalk standards by the city, Denver ended up with a network where 830 miles of sidewalks are too narrow for people using wheelchairs or parents pushing strollers. There are also 300 miles worth of places that should have sidewalks where none exist today. Untold miles more are damaged or in disrepair.

Under 307, Denverites that own their homes will pay annual fees based on how much sidewalk runs along their property. That fee, which varies by property size and the types of sidewalks expected to be installed along different types of streets, will feed a fund that is expected to generate $40 million a year for sidewalk repair and replacement.

The measure’s supporters said that if the city bonds against the money the fees bring in, Denver could build out a complete sidewalk network in as little as 10 years whereas the current system could take centuries.

“Voters sent a message to the city that they, like us, were tired of waiting for action on such a basic public good,” Molly McKinley, the Denver Streets Partnership’s policy director, said in a statement Sunday.

But there are plenty of skeptics, including Denver residents who recently paid out of their own pockets to repair their sidewalks and now face annual charges for work they are unlikely to need again for years to come.

City Councilman Kevin Flynn has been critical of the measure for what he feels is an overly optimistic timeline and budget projection. He also feels it is unfair to people who live on corners and could see fees hundreds of dollars higher than those paid by their neighbors.

If a person’s house is on a residential or local street, the fee they would pay would be $2.15 per foot of sidewalk per year. For a house with 50 feet of sidewalk in front of it, that’s $107.50. But Flynn found examples of homes on corners where the owners could end up paying $450 more a year than the homeowner next door.

“We all want sidewalks that are accessible to everyone, but I think this program will fail because of how it underestimates the cost,” Flynn said last week. “We know there are significant problems that will need to be addressed and I look forward to working with the city and the proponents to address those problems.”

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