Aurora eyes new commission for immigrant, refugee issues

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AURORA | The City of Aurora is looking to create an immigrant and refugee commission as part of its growing immigrant and refugee services. 

At a Monday study session, Aurora City Council members agreed to move forward with a measure that would turn the city’s Immigrant and Refugee Task Force into a city commission.

Ricardo Gambetta, who heads the city’s Office of International and Immigrant Affairs, said the commission would consist of 11 members. City officials are still working on the number of terms a member would serve.

He said the commission would promote the integration of the local immigrant and refugee communities into Aurora’s civic, economic and cultural life.

He said since Aurora’s Office of International and Immigrant Affairs opened in 2015, the city has started a “Natural Helpers” program. He said the program, held at the Aurora Welcome Center, takes volunteers from the community who have the desire to help their fellow immigrants and refugees and trains them to help others find medical care, schools and jobs.

“We have more than 30 participants representing 15 countries who are training at the Aurora Welcome Center,” said Gambetta.

He said the city will also be hosting its first naturalization ceremony in July for 75 residents who have been approved for U.S. citizenship. 

In the past three years, Aurora has reinvigorated its Sister Cities program, opened an immigrant welcome center and hosted an annual GlobalFest, a gastro-centric celebration of the city’s diverse demographics. Last year, city officials also created a three-year plan for how to better integrate the people from 140 countries who make up Aurora.

Later in the evening, Aurora City Council members postponed action on a measure that would put stricter regulations on short-rentals. The measure would require someone renting their home through a site such as Airbnb for a month or less to obtain a business license and the collection of the city’s lodger’s tax. The measure would also require homeowners renting their home to occupy 75 percent or more of a home.

Trevor Vaughn, manager of the city’s tax and licensing division, said other home-based businesses in the city must follow that requirement.

But some Aurora council members said the measure was overreaching.

“It’s a lot of regulation with this,” said At-Large Councilwoman Angela Lawson. She said at the meeting that city officials should be regulating homes that are rented for a longer period of time, and that she would not be voting for the measure as written. 

“I think the city needs to stay out of all the people’s business,” said Ward II Councilwoman Renie Peterson. She said she would also not be voting for the measure if it moved to the regular city council floor.

The city’s finance department estimates there are between 120 and 170 Airbnb-style businesses in Aurora at any given time, and that 25 percent advertise their entire home for rent. City staff also estimate top-performing renters make between $15,000 and $48,000 in revenue annually.

City officials say Aurora could make between $6,000 and $30,000 per year if these businesses were required to pay the city’s 8-percent lodger’s tax.

The measure would require all vacation rental hosts with an Aurora address to apply for a $38 Aurora business license and collect the lodger’s tax from each guest they host.

“I think we’re losing a certain amount of lodger’s tax because people are staying at an Airbnb instead of a hotel,” said At-Large Councilman Brad Pierce, who said he supported the measure. “We’re really not regulating them to the maximum, we’re just putting a little regulation in so we can know who they are and collect lodger’s tax.” 

Four council members — Marsha Berzins, Francoise Bergan, Sally Mounier and Barb Cleland — were absent from the meeting. That was one of the reasons Aurora council members cited for postponing the issue until a future study session.

Denver City Council will also decide this month on a proposal that would allow short-term vacation rentals only in a resident’s primary home and not a second home, according to The Denver Post.