Aurora City Council Rejects Proposal to Raise Minimum Wage

Aurora City Council rejected a minimum wage increase.
Aurora City Council rejected a minimum wage increase. Pexels
Following a lengthy public comment period, Aurora City Council rejected a proposal to raise the minimum wage; Mayor Mike Coffman broke a tie-vote early on November 3.

This was the council's last chance to raise the city's minimum wage for 2021. The proposal would have raised the minimum wage to $12.60 in 2021, with yearly increases until the minimum wage hit $17 by 2025.

More than two dozen opponents of the bill, including many small business owners, testified during the public comment period. "Small businesses are dying, and the last thing we can do is add a cost on them," said Mark Shaker, founder of Stanley Marketplace.

Almost as many people called in to express support for the bill, saying that a minimum wage increase for Aurora was overdue, and that a pandemic is an ideal time to help out those who are struggling.

Alison Coombs sponsored the proposal; Juan Marcano, Crystal Murillo, Nicole Johnston and Allison Hiltz also voted in favor of it.

Although Angela Lawson stated that she supports a minimum-wage increase, she sided with Dave Gruber, Francoise Bergan, Marsha Berzins and Curtis Gardner in voting no. Coffman, who recently referred to the proposal as "Dumb and Dumber," broke the tie.

Lawson was concerned about the way in which Coombs rolled out the proposal, which was a watered-down version of one Coombs had presented earlier in the fall.

"I didn’t know that she did not actually talk to the business community about this," Lawson said, "and that’s where I’m having some problems with the process and how this was done."

Lawson referenced an email that Coombs had sent to Chance Horiuchi, executive director of the Havana Business Improvement District, on September 22, a day after the council rejected Coombs's first minimum-wage proposal.

"I want to be clear that we're not moving forward on minimum wage for the City of Aurora," Coombs wrote Horiuchi. "I do not want a proposal passed late in the year to go into effect January 1. Throughout this process, I have been trying to set a timeline that would give businesses time to plan and prepare. Continuing to push at this time would not enable that."

Hours before the vote, here's how Coombs explained that letter: "When I told Chance that, it’s because, at a time when I was not planning to bring it back, she and others were saying I was planning to bring it back, so I sent her a message at that time that that was not my plan."

So Horiuchi was surprised to see Coombs's announcement on October 27 that she was bringing another proposal forward. "Unfortunately, since then, there really was zero communication from her," Horiuchi says. "It was definitely a surprise announcement on Facebook."

As soon as she knew the proposal was going to be part of the November 2 council meeting agenda, she reached out to the Aurora Business Advisory Board chairman to let him know. "I knew that it was going to create some concern, and I didn’t want it to unnecessarily create that concern and that panic when we didn’t know where things were going," Coombs adds.

Still, the lack of engagement with the business community led Lawson to vote against the proposal. "I just don't think this is right," she said.

The proposal would have brought Aurora in line with Denver, with a minimum wage of approximately $17 by 2025. It's been $7.25 nationwide since 2009.

Colorado's official minimum wage is $12. In 2019, the Colorado Legislature gave municipalities and counties the authority to raise the minimum wage beyond the state level. Denver quickly did so last year, and it took effect in 2020. While Aurora can try again, it won't be able to increase its minimum wage before 2022.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.