AURORA | The second portion of Aurora’s study on becoming its own county by 2021 will be presented to city council Feb. 21 and Arapahoe county commissioners will be closely listening. That’s because nearly 90 percent of Aurora’s more than 300,000 people live and pay taxes in Arapahoe county.
“There’s this mentality that everything goes to western Arapahoe County. That’s absolutely not true today,” said Commissioner Rod Bockenfeld, whose district includes eastern portions of Aurora.
Bockenfeld’s concerns stem from a February editorial where the Denver Post quoted Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan saying the city has been shortchanged on many county services as a result of being tied to three counties (Arapahoe, Adams, Douglas).
“I have close to 55 percent of my constituency in Aurora. Why would I neglect 55 percent of my constituency?” Bockenfeld asked.
Becoming a city-county would provide Aurora with a county jail, which would solve the city paying to house inmates in Douglas or Broomfield counties. Aurora spent $134,698 to house inmates in Denver in 2013 that could not be housed in the Adams County jail, according to city officials.
But Bockenfeld says Adams County doesn’t take on the majority of Aurora’s inmates anyway.
“How do you take something that’s such a small segment, 10 percent of your city, and try to make it a major issue to become your own county?” he asked.
“The majority of Aurora’s citizens and their municipal prisoners are housed in Arapahoe County. The city itself is not paying anything for those prisoners. The county as a whole is paying for them.”
Commissioner Bill Holen, whose district includes northern Aurora, says the city will have trouble funding its own city-county services if it makes the switch. Aurora’s tax base is small compared to more affluent municipalities like Greenwood Village, which is also a part of Arapahoe County.
“My objection to it is based as a citizen of Aurora. Citizens need to be aware of the tremendous amount of financial, administrative and protective force we provide the city,” Holen said.
He points to the Arapahoe County Human Services Department at Centrepoint Plaza.
“More than 75 percent of the clients served there are Aurora residents. Those services are primarily funded by a tax base in southern Arapahoe County. Take that tax base away and Aurora is going to find itself in a real struggle,” he said.
Aurora becoming its own city-county would cost about $108 million each year and $158 million in one-time costs to start, according to Tischlerbise, a firm commissioned by the city council to conduct the study for $249,000. The costs were based on Aurora being solely in the 18th Judicial District and keeping its current city boundaries. The estimates come from an assumed maximum cost impact if the city were to have fully staffed city and county operations and build new facilities such as a jail.
That version of the study remained silent on what cost-savings the city could expect from obtaining the status.
“As far as I know, this is the finished report,” said Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan about the report heading to council next week. Although he didn’t specify new details, Hogan says cost issues will be addressed at the meeting.
“This isn’t about Arapahoe County, this is about Aurora,” he said. Hogan said Aurora has dramatically changed since the last time the city-county concept came to council in the 1990s.
“The Anschutz campus wasn’t up and running, and Buckley Air Force Base wasn’t an Air Force base. You can always say, ‘Wait until a better time.’ There’s never going to be a universally accepted better time for an Arapahoe county commissioner,” he said.
The Mayor said “becoming a City and County will be very expensive but it is something we need to do.” This declaration implies the the revenue study shows an increase in taxes for Aurora’s citizens and Aurora’s businesses and yet the Mayor believes that it will be good for him and council members to proceed with the process to become a city and county.
Could there be a pay increase, an increase in travel funds, an increase in expense allowance and an increase in the car allowance for the Mayor and council members if Aurora becomes a city and county? More than likely, but we can agree that what is good for the politician is good for the City.
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