Water storage, spaces for biz top Aurora council priorities list

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AURORA | In the coming years Aurora businesses may be able to provide employees with Class A office space while residents may find themselves boating and fishing in a city-owned reservoir east of Aurora Reservoir.

Aurora gets 25 percent of their water from the Homestake Reservoir, which is owned by Colorado Springs and Aurora and located just on the other side of the Continental Divide. The water is moved through a tunnel under the Continental Divide and sent downstream to Twin Lakes where it is pumped through the Otero Pump Station to Aurora. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora SentinelThe wide-ranging and broad goals were part of those outlined by Aurora City Council as priorities following a three-day workshop in January in Broomfield.

New priorities for city council members this year include focusing on regional water projects, further analyzing police staffing requirements, funding city roads and bringing more Class A office space to Aurora.

Aurora Ward V Councilman Bob Roth said the city needs to focus on water storage and transport projects to ensure the city remains in a position where it doesn’t have to worry about providing water to nearly 350,000 residents.

“Along with the potential for additional pipeline and the potential for additional storage buckets, it’s about finding the water rights and purchasing the water rights we need for the future,” he said. “I think it’s a priority for this year and years to come. We are going to expand and have more people, water is becoming such a precious commodity.”

Aurora gets water from three river basins. Half of the city’s water comes from the South Platte River Basin, a quarter comes from the snow melt flows from Colorado River Basin, and a quarter from the Arkansas River Basin. The Prairie Waters Project increased Aurora’s water supply by 20 percent when it was completed over a decade ago, and today it provides the city with an additional 3.3 billion gallons of water per year.

Aurora Water officials told the Aurora Sentinel during a 2015 water tour the biggest issue facing the city’s vast, complex water system is storage.  Two of their ideas include turning land the city purchased at Box Creek north of Twin Lakes in Lake County into additional storage space and creating a future reservoir, which would sit on the former Lowry Bombing and Gunnery Range.

Another new priority for council members this year is to look at whether the city is meeting its current hiring mandate of about 1.9 officers per 1,000 residents.

Ward IV Aurora Councilman Charlie Richardson said he is concerned Aurora is not being competitive enough replacing police officers who are ready to retire with qualified candidates.

“We’re not going to reach our hiring goal for cops this year unless we do something,” he said.  “There seems to be a lot of fuzziness on where we’re at.”

Aurora City Manager Skip Noe confirmed that the number of graduates from the city’s February police academies was below average. But he said the city should be able to make the numbers up with future academy graduates.

According to Noe,  Aurora had 660 sworn officers in 2014, 666 sworn officers in 2015 and 672 sworn officers in 2016. In 2014, 28 officers either retired, were terminated or reassigned, and that number jumped slightly to 30 in 2015.

In each year the number of sworn officers was less than the number of officers authorized as part of the city’s annual budget, but Noe said there is no way to meet that exact number without spending a significant amount on hiring. He said the city already budgets for around 20 over-hires, accounting for people that retire, leave or drop out of the academies.

“Right now, the numbers show we’re on that track,” Noe said.

With no new revenue sources on the horizon after a failed 2014 ballot initiative, city officials are also prioritizing ways to fund regular street maintenance and repairs.

At-Large Councilman Brad Pierce said he is interested in crafting a ballot measure that would ask voters to approve a bond to finance street maintenance. Right now, Aurora’s roads are considered to be in fair condition, according to the Pavement Condition Index, which measures street conditions nationwide. But in the next five years, the quality of the 966 miles of road in the city is expected to drop from 68 to 64.

“It’s just an idea. There are no numbers yet, for how to improve the condition of our streets without raising taxes,” Pierce said.

With the city’s vast inventory of aging office complexes, Class A office space is also a priority for council members over the next two years.

Council members will also be carrying over priorities from last year. Those include redevelopment around the Fitzsimons campus, building out Fan Fare on Havana Street, completing the Westerly Creek corridor, developing a commercial plan for Interstate 70 and Colfax, working on transit oriented development projects, addressing construction defects laws, and focusing on the city’s international program and its homeless outreach.

This year, council members took the hotly-contested city-county consolidation issue off the list, but the subject will be discussed at a future study session, according to city staff. In 2014, a year-and-a-half-long study conducted by TischlerBise showed Aurora as a combined city-county could close a revenue gap in 20 years through eliminating duplicate roles and functions between city departments and the city’s three counties, and by contracting with Arapahoe County for jail space.

“City-and-county study has been done, it’s now just a question of where city council or a group of citizens want to take that information and move ahead with a referendum or an advisory question,” said Mayor Steve Hogan, a longtime proponent for Aurora making the switch to a city-county government.