AURORA | More city money than ever will spent on public safety next year, if preliminary budget goals become a finalized spending plan.
Nearly 40 percent of Aurora’s $315 million proposed 2017 city budget is going toward safety in Aurora, according to city documents reviewed during the weekend at a city council budget analysis meeting.
This year, Aurora City Council is looking to approve 40 new hires for the city’s police and fire departments.
The proposed budget for the city’s fire department is $49 million, increasing $2 million from the city’s 2016 budget. Next year, money will be used to build the new fire station set to open near the future Gaylord Rockies Hotel and Conference Center in the Denver International Airport area. The city is also looking to add five full-time firefighters for the new Gaylord station, and 20 new more full-time firefighters with new fire equipment citywide.
Aurora Police will see their proposed budget increase by $7 million in 2017 to $109 million.
While the city has seen a substantial increase in crime during the past two years, city lawmakers have long said that public safety and police spending were priorities.
“I don’t think our actions are related to the crime statistics,” said Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan. “Police hires reflect the simple fact that we are growing. Fire hires relate to the same reality, but in addition, over the next couple of years fire fighters will be transitioning to working fewer hours. That means a need to hire more positions to cover the same hours.”
At the Aurora City Council budget workshop Oct. 1, city council members approved hiring 14 new full-time police officers. According to city documents, the money will go to leasing new space for the Aurora Police Narcotics and Electronics Support departments, as well as funding a District 1 Westerly Creek bicycle patrol unit.
A controversial topic during the recent workshop was a proposed $100,000 study that would look at how many police Aurora should be hiring.
Aurora has failed in recent years to keep up with police hiring mandates. Right now city law requires roughly two police officers for every 1,000 residents, but Aurora Police academies have had difficulty recruiting a diverse, qualified police force and retaining those recruits in a competitive market.
Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz said at the budget meeting that Aurora police have problems being efficient, and that an outside consultant would help the department with structural issues.
“It takes an officer an hour to handle a misdemeanor shoplift (case),” Metz said, adding that a consultant could provide insight into best practices around the country and how Aurora could improve the amount of time officers spend on paperwork.
Aurora Ward IV City Councilman Charlie Richardson said he opposed the study, questioning how effective it would be to bring the hiring question to an outside consultant.
“I don’t need to pay someone $100,000 to tell me what police officers should be,” Richardson said. “If this expert comes out and says we need less than two per 1,000, the labor groups and myself will be very cynical about the outcome of this study.”
Hogan said he was concerned about the amount of money attached to the study, and wondered if it was too little to make a dent in the problem.
“What are we going to get for $100,000? If we’re going to do something, it seems to me it has to be a real, live expenditure of money,” Hogan said.
Aurora City Council also allocated $2 million in one-time funds from marijuana revenue toward concrete and asphalt paving of city streets as part of its 2017 proposed budget.
The city is also using more of its Parks, Recreation and Open Space budget to improve medians throughout Aurora under the 2017 budget proposal. The proposed budget dedicates more than $1 million to general median improvements throughout Aurora, with half of that money going to median improvements along Tower Road.
Aurora Deputy City Manager Jason Batchelor said, this year, Aurora lawmakers are focusing on necessary staff hiring with general fund shortfalls predicted in 2018 and beyond.
“Growth revenue is starting to soften,” he cautioned.
The 2017 budget proposal will be heard at a regular Aurora City council meeting Oct. 10.