Curious About Denver’s Proposed $937M Bond? Here Are A Few Questions Answered

Photo: Denver Skyline2 wide (HV)
The Denver skyline and the Rocky Mountains.

Denver’s need for things like new roads, parks, transportation options and police stations is giving way to what would be the largest bond in the city’s history.

The city is looking to swipe its credit card for just about everything. With more than 400 projects on the list, the biggest single item is deferred maintenance. Transportation is another big splash, with the proposed bus rapid transit on Colfax as a prime example. Anyone who drives on Denver streets will appreciate that the city wants to dump more $400 million into all kinds of transportation projects and into just simply repaving streets.

The city council has refered the question to the ballot and voters will decide if the package can go ahead. What's more, The Denver Post reports that voters will face seven questions, as the total package will be broken up by category for votes.

How Is This Different Than Better Denver Bond, Passed 10 Years Ago?

It’s essentially the same thing, but bigger. The Better Denver Bond brought in $550 million dollars in 2007 for public projects. These bonds are essentially like a mortgage on your house. The city wants to borrow money and pay it back with interest over time — it’s pretty much a standard way that cities pay for improvements. It should be noted that Denver has the highest credit rating possible, so it’ll get a favorable interest rate. The money to pay back the bond comes from property taxes.

So Are My Property Taxes Are Going To Go Up?

Now, the city says the tax rate will not increase if this bond is approved by voters in November. Which is technically true — they don’t have to raise the tax rate, because property values have increased so much. And taxes have increased with them.

What Happens To Property Taxes If Voters Say No?

The tax rate would go down, but not necessarily the amount you pay in taxes because your property values have gone up so much. But, the ten year old Better Denver bond, is running out. Residents are essentially voting to continue borrowing money for these kinds of upgrade projects. That’s what makes this such a big decision. Invest in the roads and police stations -- in museums, parks and libraries -- or let the tax rate fall. A vote in either direction will have an impact.

Isn’t This Essentially A Stimulus Package For Denver?

The last time voters approved a bond like this, the Better Denver bond, the Great recession hit the next year. The money was supposed to be doled out over 10 years, but then mayor-John Hickenlooper was able to accelerate project timetables as a stimulus, pumping $200 million a year into the economy at its lowest point. If voters approve this new bond, Mayor Michael Hancock would also have the same tools to stimulate the local economy if needed.

City Council Had Their Say, But The Final Word Belongs To Voters Right?

Right on the money. A significant political campaign is expected for this once election season gets here. Backers have raised more than $800,000 already. Most observers think it has a strong chance of passing, since Denverites have been generally open to paying for city services. But remember, because home prices have risen so dramatically in the past 10 years, that’s the wildcard factor. People have seen their taxes go up substantially and homeowners may still be in sticker shock over their latest assessment.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect that the city council has approved the bond package, referring it to the ballot so that voters will decide on the improvements.