Cripple Creek Voters May Decide Fate of Proposed Sales Tax Hike

Rick Langenberg

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

This ballot plan, coupled with a pending vote on the possible go-ahead for permitting recreational marijuana, could set the stage for one of the more significant city elections for Cripple Creek this fall.

Although no formal vote was taken last week, the elected leaders heavily supported a proposal made by City Finance Director Paul Harris that justifies a slight sales tax hike during a council workshop. If approved by the voters, this  means the total city sales tax would amount to a little more than 3 percent, well below what is applicable in other mountain communities. The proposed added sales tax hike will generate an additional $300,000 to $350,000 a year.

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

But the groundwork was laid out for a one-penny tax hike on all goods and services, except for food. Harris noted that Cripple Creek is lagging behind other communities in the form of sales taxes

With the growth of potential  activities in the community and a pending development boom, he sees this as a way to operate more like a traditional town, and not  rely on the revenue from a single industry. In Cripple Creek’s case, this amounts to a heavy dependence on gaming device fees.

However, since the advent of COVID, local casinos have operated with fewer betting devices, compared to the pre-epidemic era.

Harris didn’t get any arguments from the city council, who clearly gave the thumbs-up for the ballot proposition. “There is no part of this that is bad,” said Councilman Mark Green.

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

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

At issue for the city too are the Taxpayer Bill of Rights requirements for ballot postings. Leaders fear that the language mandated on the ballot could put the town at a disadvantage from the outset.

Still, sales tax levies usually fare much better than property tax plans, based on voter reaction.

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

He conceded that this proposal will require much lobbying from city council members and community leaders. These types of propositions sometimes take several years to garner a positive vote,  noted Harris.

The Nov. election of 2022, though, should attract  many voters due to a number of significant races on the national and state front.

Another possible vote that could pepper the ballot even more is a highly-discussed plan to give the okay for permitting recreational marijuana operations within the city  limits (see related story)