All the New Taxes and Fees Denverites Started Paying in 2019

If your wallet is already feeling a little lighter this year, that's because in November, Denver voters overwhelmingly approved ballot measures that called for raising taxes to pay for an array of items, including drug and mental health services, food education for Denver's youth, scholarships, park improvements and more. As a result, sales and use taxes on general items went up .66 percent starting January 1.

Earlier in 2018, Mayor Michael Hancock had approved a tax hike on recreational marijuana to help pay for affordable housing. And on top of all that, state park entrance fees have increased, as have RTD bus and train ticket prices.

Here to do the math for us is Courtney Law, communications director of Denver's Department of Finance. "Beginning [on January 1, four voter-approved sales-tax measures took effect in Denver," she says. "These changes will take the city’s sales-tax rate from 3.65 percent to 4.31 percent. Combined with 2.9 percent state sales tax, 1 percent RTD sales tax, and .10 percent sales tax for the Cultural Facilities District, the new effective sales-tax rate that will be collected in the City and County of Denver will change from 7.65 percent to 8.31 percent."

We've broken down all the new taxes and fee hikes so that you can adjust your 2019 budgets accordingly. If this list makes you a little queasy, keep reading until the end for some good news....

State Park Entrance Fees
The state's 41 parks needed a little more TLC than they were getting, so the legislature passed a bill allowing Colorado Parks and Wildlife to increase entrance fees. Daily vehicles passes are now $8 to $10, a dollar increase from 2018. Annual vehicle passes are now $80, up ten bucks from last year. Visit the CPW's website for a full list of fee changes.

The Regional Transportation District has raised prices for bus and train tickets, making Denver's rates the most expensive in the nation, according to Streetsblog. New adult fares are $3, up from $2.60, regional fares have increased from $4.50 to $5.25, and a ride to or from the airport on the A Line will cost you $10.50, an increase of $1.50. But RTD is now offering a 70 percent discount to all riders between the ages of six and nineteen, as well as other discounts for low-income travelers. Find more information about RTD's new fares at its website.

Housing advocates cheered when Denver City Council approved Hancock's plan to double the city's Affordable Housing Fund, from $15 million to $30 million. But marijuana industry folks weren't too excited: The plan depends on a 2 percent increase in the recreational tax rate on cannabis, from 3.3 percent to 5.5 percent, which will generate $8 million per year. Coupled with the general sales-tax rate of 4.31 percent, the new hike makes rec taxable at 9.81 percent in Denver...on top of state taxes.

Championed by Denver City Council President Jolon Clark, the ballot measure has increased sales and use taxes by .25 percent, or about $45.94 million annually, to acquire additional land for parks, trails and open space and to pay for park improvements and maintenance. The measure passed by about 62 percent in November's midterm elections.

Residents in counties across the metro area, including Adams, Jefferson, Arapahoe, Douglas, Broomfield and Boulder counties, approved this initiative in November, which increases property taxes in the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District by $1.97 for each $100,000 of a property's valuation to offset financial problems the district has encountered because of TABOR.

Ordinance 300
This initiative barely squeaked by voters, who approved it by just over 51 percent in November. Initiative 300 increases the sales tax by .08 percent, or about a penny on every $10 purchase, to fund scholarships and educational support services, including academic counseling and tutoring, for Denver residents. The tax expires in twelve years.

Ordinance 301
Undoubtedly the most popular ballot initiative based on how many voters approved this measure — nearly 70 percent! — 301 increases the sales-tax rate by .25 percent to fund mental health services, substance abuse prevention and more.

Ordinance 302
Sales taxes have increased by about .08 percent for this initiative, or about $11.2 annually, to provide healthy food and food education to low-income and at-risk youth in Denver. The new Denver Food Commission will distribute the funds until 2029, when the tax increase expires.

Now for the good news: The Denver Public Library ended late fines on January 1, meaning customers will no longer be fined for overdue items. If something you've checked out from the library isn't returned fourteen days after its due date, a hold will be placed on your account. If it's 28 days late, the item will be considered lost, and you will have to pay a replacement fee. Fines generated about $110,339 in revenue in 2017. 
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Ana Campbell has been Westword's managing editor since 2016. She has worked at magazines and newspapers around the country, picking up a few awards along the way for her writing and editing. She grew up in south Texas.
Contact: Ana Campbell