Aurora looks at furlough days, hiring freeze, construction delays to balance $26M shortfall

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AURORA | With sales tax making up more than half of Aurora’s general fund and the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on the economy, city staff and lawmakers are preparing for deep cuts for the next several years. This week staff said those cuts will include furloughs, putting capital projects on hold and a hiring freeze among other measures.

City budget officer Greg Hays briefed city council members Monday on their “balancing toolbox.” It’ll have to make up for a $25.5 million shortfall for 2020, most of those decisions being at the discretion of the city manager.

The 2021 budget process will begin in the fall.

“It’s going to be a rollercoaster of a year,” Hays said, highlighting actions like the already-instituted hiring freeze, which could result in some of those positions never being filled again.

In all, the city will make nearly $13 million in operating cuts and $11.6 million in capital cuts. 

Operating cuts include actions like the hiring freeze, which is expected to save the most money at $6.2 million, two furlough days, which will save $1 million, and specific department reductions, which will free up $1.7 million. 

On the capital side, despite cuts, Hays said the city struck a little luck. Because of the bond market, the city was able to get an additional $4 million in financing the new southeast recreation center. Half of that will be applied in 2020 and the other half in 2021.

Making up for the shortfall in this year’s existing budget is expected to be even tougher in an effort to make balancing an estimated $30 million shortfall easier in 2021, Hays said. In addition to the extra bond money, putting aside $5 million of CARES Act money granted by the federal government will make balancing 2021, hopefully, a little easier.

Even with these actions, the future is still a moving target. One projection from the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business estimates a 2021 shortfall of $54.7 million for the city. 

So far, trends aren’t tracking that high, officials said.