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Longmont City Council to Discuss Details of Food Tax Rebate Program

December 15, 2018
Customer service representative Holly McCully bags groceries Friday at the King Soopers on South Hover Street in Longmont. City council on Tuesday will discuss details of a possible food tax rebate program.

If you go

What: Longmont City Council

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Civic Center council chambers, 350 Kimbark St.

Agenda: tinyurl.com/y94hq4zd

Longmont City Council on Tuesday is set to discuss how to go about giving low-income residents at least a partial refund of the 3.53 percent municipal sales tax on food.

City staff is seeking council direction on implementing a food tax rebate program before drafting an ordinance or ordinances for council action.

The 2019 city budget already includes $320,000 for the program’s projected start-up and operating costs, including $20,000 to administer it, $200,000 in one-time costs and $100,000 for the first year of operating expenses.

Among the details council is expected to consider Tuesday is income-eligibility requirements for the rebates. Other questions staff has asked council to discuss include what the rebate amounts should be; whether they should be per person or per household; whether rebates should be paid monthly or in an annual lump sum, and how refunds should be processed.

Under one scenario, based in part on income eligibility guidelines for people participating in Boulder County’s Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP) — people with incomes of up to 160 percent of the federal poverty level — Longmont might award an annual $78 food sales tax rebate to each eligible applicant and $78 for each additional family member, with a limit of $204 per family in a given year.

Rebates could be adjusted on a regular basis to account for economic trends, staff said in a memo to council.

The food sales tax rebate program, once it takes effect, will not be the only rebate Longmont offers for people based on age or income.

City staff has recommended the grocery tax rebate be administered along with others, in what staff in a memo to council said would be “a more streamlined approach” of assisting low-income residents with their living expenses.

Five rebate programs or utility rate discounts already in place include a property tax/rent rebate for people 65 and older or disabled; a park and greenway maintenance fee rebate for people 65 and older or disabled; a water bill rebate for utility customers with incomes of up to 160 percent of the federal poverty level; an electric bill discount for low-income seniors and disabled residents, and an electric life support discount for residents using medically required life support equipment.

Each is now administered separately, and in some cases have different eligibility levels, staff reported.

Staff has estimated that about 600 of the county LEAP program’s income-qualified Longmont households might apply for a “bundled” rebate program that would include rebates of grocery sales taxes.

If each of those applying households qualified for the grocery tax rebate program, it would cost $122,400, an amount that could be funded from the money budgeted for starting and operating the program, staff said.

City council began discussing a possible food tax rebate program earlier this year, after an organization calling itself UnTax Food argued for the city to stop collecting sales taxes on food and began circulating a petition to put that tax repeal proposal on the November ballot.

Repealing the tax entirely could cost the city as much as $9.4 million in 2019 , according to July estimates from Jim Golden, the city’s chief financial officer, and council members voted 5-2 on July 24 to have staff prepare a possible grocery tax rebate ordinance.

UnTax Food organizer Paul Tiger on July 26 announced that he failed to get enough signatures to put the grocery tax repeal question on the ballot .

Contact Staff Writer John Fryar at 303-684-5211 or jfryar@times-call.com or twitter.com/jfryartc

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