Aurora lawmakers defeat minimum wage hike, green-light campaign reform, anti-gang bill

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AURORA | A thin majority of Aurora lawmakers defeated a pared-down minimum wage increase Monday night, while approving a youth violence compact with Denver, animal control rules and campaign finance reforms. 

Lawmakers Alison Coombs and Juan Marcano introduced the plan last week to raise the city’s bottom wage to $12.60 per hour in 2021 and ultimately $17 an hour in 2025. The pair had previously introduced a higher wage increase opposed by a majority of the city council in September. 

Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman broke a tie on the council to kill the proposal. Lawmakers Curtis Gardner, Angela Lawson, Marsha Berzins, Dave Gruber and Francoise Bergan had voted against the plan. 

During the Monday night council meeting, which lasted until after 1 a.m. Tuesday, residents vehemently voiced condemnations of the plan or offered strong support. 

Among the opponents of the minimum wage increase was Hiemi Haines, whose parents own the building near East Colfax Avenue and Elmira Street housing Baba & Pop’s Pierogi, Third Culture bakery and Lady Justice brewery.

Haines echoed the prevailing argument: Aurora small businesses would suffer too much with a wage hike, opponents have said, while already straining under the weight of COVID-19-related business restrictions. 

“I do believe that people deserve to have their minimum wage go up sometime, but I’m really afraid that these tenants…cannot make it if the minimum wage goes up,” Haines said. 

Haines’ family drew national media attention early in the pandemic after the Sentinel chronicled their mask-making endeavours.   

Coombs and other supporters said they were disappointed with the vote. She said workers need a “hand up.”

Marcano said workers need real support soon.

“Empathy doesn’t pay the bills,” he said. 

Many residents opposing the measure said they were offended by the timing of the measure. Coombs said the plan had to be finalized in November to give workers a much-needed pay bump in 2021. 

Some callers said they felt blindsided by the measure, especially while Aurorans are fixed on the upcoming results of a historic election and small businesses suffer because of fresh business restrictions. 

In other business, city lawmakers finalized sweeping animal regulations and overhauled the city’s campaign finance rules. 

Also, city council members unanimously agreed to create a compact with Denver to help prevent youth violence. 

With the agreement, Aurora and Denver will be able to share resources and public and private dollars to prevent kids from falling into violence and gangs. It’s part of a regional approach Aurora lawmakers say is essential to curb youth violence after a tragic summer. 

Lawmakers also unanimously agreed to spend $3.8 million to help fund a wide network of homeless service providers, ready-to-work programs and affordable housing projects. Most of the dollars came from the city’s marijuana tax fund and federal grants.  

The recipients including Mile High Behavioral Healthcare — an organization running homeless outreach programs and shelters, including a forthcoming winter shelter — as well as the Providence at the Heights affordable housing community, the Second Chance Center, Salvation Army and the Aurora Housing Authority. 

Also, the city council moved to cap fees paid by restaurants to third party companies for food delivery services. Denver recently added similar protections to protect restaurants from predatory practices by tech-based delivery companies such as Uber Eats.