Longmont City Council Gives Initial OK to Food Tax Rebate, Related Measures

March 6, 2019
Ana Biel checks out a customer's groceries Tuesday at the King Soopers on Pace Street at 17th Avenue.

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The city will post information about Longmont CAReS, the City Assistance and Rebate System, at tinyurl.com/y3hycrw5


Longmont City Council members Tuesday night voted their unanimous initial approval of a set of ordinances that would create a new program for low-income residents to get refunds of at least part of the 3.53 percent municipal sales tax on groceries.

The six ordinances, which now will be scheduled for a public hearing and final council action on March 19, also would allow the city to combine the process for residents to apply for a number of financial assistance, rebates or discounts programs already in place for income-eligible households.

The grocery tax rebate program’s eligibility guidelines would be based on income guidelines used to determine whether people qualify for Boulder County’s Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP).

Under those guidelines and the proposed ordinance, people whose income last year was at or below 160 percent of the federal poverty level would be eligible for partial refunds of Longmont’s sales tax on food.

Currently, 160 percent of the federal poverty level is equivalent to $19,296 a year for an individual, $26,796 for a couple and $33,696 for a family of three, officials said.

As presently proposed, a one-person Longmont household could get a $78 grocery sales tax rebate, a two-person household $156 if they jointly file taxes, and a household with three or more people a $204 rebate.

Exiting city assistance programs expected to become part of the single-application process include a property tax or rent rebate for people who are 65 or 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; an electric utility discount for residents using medically required electric-powered life support equipment, and a rebate for disabled people or those 65 and older of the park and greenway maintenance fee they’re charged on their utility bills.

Staff is creating a single application form for the combined financial aid programs known as “Longmont CAReS,” the Longmont City Assistance and Rebate System, as well as information about the kinds of assistance available, who would qualify, how assistance will be provided, and where and how people can apply.

The grocery tax rebate, along with the rebates and discounts already in place, would be given as a lump sum credit on city utility bills. Qualified applicants who are not utility customers would get a check for the grocery tax rebate.

Council last summer began discussions about the possibility of partially refunding grocery sales taxes paid by low-income residents.

Those discussions started when an organization calling itself UnTax Food was circulating petitions to ask Longmont voters for a complete repeal of the city’s sales tax on groceries — a petition drive that ended when not enough signatures were collected to send the measure to the ballot.

At one point last summer, Jim Golden, Longmont’s chief financial officer, estimated that at least $7.2 million of the $72 million in sales taxes the city expected to collect last year would not have been collected if a complete grocery tax repeal had been in effect in 2018.

In December, city council gave staff the go-ahead to proceed with establishing partial grocery tax refund program. On Feb. 26, council informally approved draft language for the ordinances that got initial council approval on Tuesday.

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

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