Arapahoe County citizens reinforce responsible budget leadership

Guest column by David Schlatter
Posted 1/2/18

The Arapahoe County government spends nearly $400 million per year serving more than 600,000 residents. If your home or business is within the county, you pay the costs of that government. Whether a …

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Arapahoe County citizens reinforce responsible budget leadership

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The Arapahoe County government spends nearly $400 million per year serving more than 600,000 residents. If your home or business is within the county, you pay the costs of that government. Whether a homeowner or renter, an increase in property taxes impacts everyone throughout the county. If property taxes go up, so will rents too. Every citizen is affected. Does Arapahoe County need a new jail, courthouse and more taxes? What about its pension obligations?

The Citizens Budget Committee for Arapahoe County is a 15-member body appointed by county commissioners to represent citizens of the five county districts. The CBC meets monthly and is charged to review the annual budget, proposals that have significant fiscal and operational impacts, and to provide recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners.

The 2018 budget forecasts the county taking in 5.4 percent more tax revenues than in 2017 — because of rising property values pushing up citizens’ tax bills — while service costs, or spending, are projected to increase 6.5 percent. Our Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which requires voter approval of any tax increase for governments in Colorado, is not the problem. Cost control is the main concern.

Arapahoe County employs about 2,000 workers at an average annual cost of $81,500 each. The CBC raised questions — about salary and benefit levels in comparison to both public and private sector equivalents. It recommended the county engage an outside consultant to perform a zero-based budget analysis, and to differentiate mandated versus non-mandated services currently provided. Presently, the county uses a baseline budget process that takes the prior year budget and evaluates additional requests “for approval.”

Arapahoe County’s pension plan is expected to nearly double its unfunded liabilities over the next 30 years from $174 million to $321 million. The CBC recommended 13-to-1 that the BOCC complete a study of the feasibility and potential cost savings of changing from a defined-benefits pension no need to capitalize this to another type of retirement plan for all newly hired county employees such as a defined-contribution plan where employees are primarily responsible for their retirement like those in the private sector.

Our road and bridge maintenance in unincorporated areas continues to present a budget challenge. The CBC suggested issuing bonds for road and bridge projects as a solution to cover needs without an open-ended tax increase.

The CBC presented the idea of repurposing the open-space sales tax to pay for new justice facilities. When that tax expires in 2023, it will have provided nearly $500 million toward developing parks and green space. Rather than raising new taxes, this tax could be repurposed in part to build new jail and courtroom facilities if needed.

Arapahoe County provides important services at a reasonable cost to taxpayers, and the CBC will continue to reinforce responsible budget leadership.

As CBC chair, I implore citizens and taxpayers to get involved. Too often, we focus on national- and state-level issues when much more direct impacts are felt at our city and county level such as potential new taxes. With more than 600,000 residents, the input of 15 citizens is not enough to represent the entire county. Talk to your commissioner. Share concerns with your county-wide elected officials: treasurer, sheriff, clerk, coroner and assessor. All five, plus two commissioners, are up for re-election in 2018. Get involved in a city or county committee. Come to public hearings. It is your county. Take action.

David Schlatter is chair of Arapahoe County’s 2017 Citizens Budget Committee.

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