Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023
A split council this week decided not to join Boulder County in pursuing a $15 per hour minimum wage by January 1. Boulder will instead continue on a plan to raise wages starting in 2025, in cooperation with Longmont, Louisville, Lafayette and Erie.
The city and county have been talking about establishing a higher local minimum wage since 2020, the first year municipalities were allowed to pursue higher wages under state law. Denver was the first region to take advantage of the new law, setting a $12.85 hourly minimum in 2020.
Locally, minimum wage efforts were put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic. Discussions did not resume until April 2022, and other municipalities did not fully come on board until recently, according to council assistant Taylor Reiman and Councilwoman Lauren Folkerts, who are both part of the collaborative working group.
A regional approach is preferred by other towns because of the shared costs and workload in preparing legislation. Collaboration is also encouraged by the state legislation, which limits the number of municipalities that can mandate higher wages.
Then, in July, Boulder County pulled out of the working group. On August 4, county commissioners publicly announced their intent to raise the wage to $15.70 per hour on January 1, 2024, a year earlier than expected, and thereafter work on an escalation plan.
Thursday night, Boulder’s elected officials debated whether or not to join the county. The four council members in favor of a 2024 increase — Junie Joseph, Nicole Speer, Aaron Brockett and Folkerts — cited the dire need of low-income community members.
“People are telling us they need it right now, nonprofits are telling us even though they will be impacted by higher wages,” Speer said. “A living wage is a matter of survival.”
“Doing a smaller increase now seems doable to me,” added Brockett, who was the only council member to originally support a 2024 timeline when council discussed the issue in May. “I want to defer final decisions to next year when we can do full engagement (and) economic analysis,” both of which could not be completed before January.
It’s also unknown how many people will be impacted by Boulder County’s increase, which covers unincorporated areas of the county. One-third of the county’s jobs are in Boulder; another third are in Longmont, and the remaining third are split between Louisville, Lafayette, Erie and unincorporated Boulder County.
Those missing pieces were a big reason the majority of Boulder’s city council felt 2024 was too soon. Boulder would also have to step back from the working group to focus on engagement and drafting an ordinance, possibly jeopardizing the collaboration. None of the other towns would be ready for a rapid implementation, Reimann told council members.
“We did tell people 2025 in May,” councilwoman Tara Winer said. “It’s almost September, and we’re saying 2024. I don’t know how we can promise something and un-promise it.”
“Maybe if we had started this in May, maybe that would be achievable,” Bob Yates said. “It’s too late, folks.”
Boulder County’s commissioners have yet to vote on the 2024 wage increase. A public hearing and vote is scheduled for November 2.
A new council will be responsible for voting to raise wages in Boulder. The majority of candidates have publicly pledged support for the effort, including current council members Winer, Yates, Speer and Brockett.
— Shay Castle, @shayshinecastle or on Mastodon at toot.bldrweb.org/@shayshinecastle
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