AURORA | Despite near-unanimous support for it, some big-figure items such as workers’ compensation claims and police security costs on the Aurora City Council’s spring supplemental budget gave at least one council member serious pause during the Monday, May 9, council meeting.
Ward IV Councilman Charlie Richardson was the only one to vote against the budget supplement, citing his concern over budget officers’ inability to earlier account for workers compensation claims totaling $1.1 million.
“The early suggestion from staff was that they were clearing out old claims, but tonight’s paperwork cites ‘heavier-than-normal workers compensation claims,’” he said.
In April city officials said those claims involved a police officer falling off a ladder and an officer-involved shooting incident.
Aurora Police also requested $1.2 million for a transfer to the Capital Projects Fund for security improvements at police stations in Districts 1 and 2.
From that budget, $2 million will go to snow removal expenditures, which city officials say were significantly higher due to more snow removal occurring on holidays and during the weekend than in previous years.
The $12-million supplemental budget request presented by city officials also included $4.9 million to improve medians in the city.
For the past four years, the City of Aurora has been able to balance its yearly budget without any cuts to services. But city officials say a lag in sales tax could cause problems by 2018.
While sales tax revenues were 4.3 percent higher than in 2015 thanks to the city’s restaurants, bars and beer, wine and liquor stores, economists predict the nation is at the mature end of a growth cycle, though they don’t predict the country will enter a recession.
Aurora Budget Officer Greg Hays said Aurora is experiencing that trend.
“They don’t project recessions, but be prepared for one. The timing is right,” Hays said at an April 30 council workshop. “The pig is mostly through the pipeline.”
Aurora’s 2016 adopted budget is $700,199, 703. That’s an increase of $73.7 million over the 2015 budget, with $43.5 million in increased operating expenditures and $30.2 million in capital expenditures.
Hays said the city budget will be balanced in 2017, but is projected to be $6.9 million in the red for 2018. He says that is due to sales tax revenues — particularly auto sales tax — expected to decline, as well as the cost of living and health insurance increases outpacing the city’s revenue growth.
Aurora experienced 6.8 percent annual growth from 2012 to 2015 following budget shortfalls brought on by the Great Recession.
More than half of the city’s 2016 general fund — which totals $315,707,597 — is made up of sales tax. Property taxes, the second-largest contributor to the general fund, make up 10 percent it. Capital use taxes make up 7 percent, auto use taxes make up 5 percent, franchise fees/taxes make up 5 percent, highway user taxes and fees make up 4 percent and lodgers tax makes up 2 percent.
This year’s city budget is 11 percent larger than the city’s 2015 budget, with public safety taking the most money out of the city’s general fund.
According to city staff, significant public safety costs have included hiring 16 new full-time Aurora fire employees, which include nine firefighters and seven fire-medics. That’s in addition to hiring 13 full-time police, with five officers and eight civilian workers. The city has also contributed $2 million to make much-needed improvements to the decades-old Moorhead Recreation Center.
One bright spot from the budget talks was marijuana revenue. In 2016, Hays said the city expects to earn $5.4 million. In March, with 17 stores and 3 cultivation facilities, the city has made $1.3 million. Last year, the city earned $2.9 million from marijuana sales taxes.