Aurora City Council approves increasing retail marijuana sales tax

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The city’s now-defunct red-light camera system. Voters pushed lawmakers to end the program, and the more than $1 million a year in fines it provided the city. Lawmakers this week agreed to raise taxes on recreational marijuana to fill that revenue gap. File photo by Gabriel Christus/The Sentinel

 

AURORA | City lawmakers approved a 1% increase in local sales tax on retail marijuana to “backfill” programs that lost funding after Aurora voters ended the Photo Red Light program in 2018.

The measure came to a third vote this week after it received a majority vote earlier this month, but failed then to get the six votes required by the city charter. 

Councilmember Allison Hiltz was absent from the previous meeting for maternity leave, but she voted for the ordinance Monday, pushing the measure over the finish line.

The measure passed 6-4. Council members Francoise Bergan, Marsha Berzins, Curtis Gardner and Dave Gruber voted against the increase. 

“In a capitalist economy, you don’t keep going back to the same successful business and asking for more taxes. Why we do that is beyond me,” Berzins said, explaining her no vote.

City staff said raising the tax rate would bring in an estimated $1 million to the city each year, and even with the increase, Aurora would still be below Denver’s tax rate of 5.5% and Commerce City, which taxes 7%.

Councilmember Angela Lawson, who sponsored the ordinance, said at a city meeting in March she wouldn’t propose any increase that would push Aurora over the tax rate of neighboring cities. Aurora city lawmakers can vote to increase the tax rate on retail marijuana up to 10% without the approval of voters because the original legalization bill gave lawmakers that power.

With the new revenue, city documents estimate that programs and services that once received Photo Red Light funds — like Aurora Mental Health Center, Gateway Domestic Violence Services and Mile High Behavioral Healthcare — would no longer require budget reductions and some budgets could even be increased.