Parker Mayor Jeff Toborg told the town council April 25 that he plans to participate in a citizens' ballot initiative to repeal the grocery tax.
Several members of the town council responded with surprise, stating that the majority of the board had not agreed to such a measure.
“You speak for the council and right now a majority of the council does not have that idea,” said Town Councilmember Josh Rivero. “And you’re not speaking for council.”
In Parker’s form of government, the mayor does not vote on council issues, except to break any ties. The mayor also facilitates council meeting discussions and acts as the spokesperson of the town.
Toborg made the announcement after being asked directly by Councilmember John Diak if there was anything the council needed to know about an initiative.
He went on to say that the committee, which must be made up of five voters according to the town charter, has not yet been finalized and that’s why he hadn’t yet told the town council about his plans.
“We will be doing it and I will come back and tell you what our plan is, what the terms are, who is on that committee and what our schedule is,” he said.
When pressed on this decision to begin an initiative without being directed to do so by the council, Toborg said he had gotten approval from legal staff to do so.
“That’s something that this council, I thought, would know about,” Rivero said. “When it's convenient for you, you tell us and that is really disappointing to me.”
Town attorney Kristin Hoffman said that she doesn’t believe it’s a legal issue but that Toborg needs to make clear that he’s not speaking on behalf of the council and that he’s not representing the direction the council has given.
When asked where the missing revenue would come from if the grocery-tax repeal is approved, Toborg suggested the town could raise its lodging tax or add a tobacco tax but didn’t provide specifics on how much of the lost revenue could be regained.
During the 2020 election for mayor, Toborg made the repeal of the grocery tax a central element of his campaign. He called it an antiquated tax and said that it hurts low-income residents in the town.
At the time, town Finance Director Mary Lou Brown estimated that the tax provides between $7 million and $10 million annually for the town’s general fund, which is the fund that pays for the police department, roads and parks, along with other expenditures.
She estimated that excluding food for home consumption from the tax code would reduce the budget by up to 20%, which would “likely impact the number of town employees, which, in turn, would impact the level of service and the services themselves that could be offered,” she said.
She also said it would be difficult to replace that income stream.
In the April 25 meeting, Toborg said that because the town doesn’t separate food for home consumption from other items purchased at a grocery store, the figures for how much revenue comes from the tax aren’t correct. He said he believes he has a more accurate figure but didn’t provide it.
Rivero, who ran against Toborg for mayor, said he wants to see where the new revenue will come from before they consider taking it away.
“I'm afraid of the town falling apart is what I'm afraid of,” Rivero said. “I’m afraid of people making an uneducated and wrong decision because tax is sexy and I'm afraid of this town losing revenue and of losing services that we moved here for.”
Toborg said he will need 7,000 signatures on a petition before the initiative can move forward.
The council will revisit the conversation in a future work session. Work sessions, which are streamed online and recorded, are available at Parkeronline.org/2118.
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