BY FREDA MIKLINGOVERNMENTAL REPORTER
Arapahoe County Commissioner Nancy Sharpe, in her third and final term, held a town hall meeting at Greenwood Village City Hall on February 20. Thirty residents from across her voting district came out to get an update on county government. Sharpe’s overall message was that the increasing population combined with the decisions of voters not to approve new funding sources could eventually lead to a decrease in some county services.
Bryan Weimer, Arapahoe County Director of Public Works and Development, addressed the subject that citizens are most concerned about, based on their calls to county government: traffic congestion. Weimer told residents that 25 percent of arterial roads in unincorporated Arapahoe County are in fair or poor condition. Signs that should be replaced every ten years are being replaced every 33 years. Crashes resulting in injuries and fatalities have increased due to the larger number of cars on the road. The cost of all traffic accidents in unincorporated Arapahoe County in 2018 has been calculated at $420 million, while the cost of traffic congestion alone has been determined to be $113 million.
Although the county will be able to add some capacity on the southbound ramp of I-25 at Dry Creek Road and add an eastbound lane on Dry Creek Road from I-25 as a result of $8 to $10 million in specific funding from DRCOG (Denver Regional Council of Governments) in 2020, transportation funds overall are not keeping up with the county’s needs. Attempts to gain approval for increased revenue for transportation in 2018 (Propositions 109 and 110) and in 2019 (Proposition CC) were rejected by the voters.
In response to a question, Weimer shared that the latest preferred design plan, called the split-diamond alternative, for Belleview Avenue and I-25, the interchange that arguably presents the most frustration for area drivers, is now estimated to cost around $90 million. The plan has not gained universal acceptance by all affected local jurisdictions yet, but that doesn’t present an immediate challenge because there is currently no known funding source for it.
The other looming issue facing Arapahoe County government is its deteriorated jail complex. Funding its much-needed rebuilding by a property tax increase of $68/year on an average home was also rejected by voters two to one in November. Nevertheless, the issues of a facility built with infrastructure for 386 inmates 34 years ago, now housing 1,100 inmates, triple-bunking, with unfixable mechanical systems, is not going away. Making the situation riskier is the fact that 40 percent of inmates have mental health challenges and another 25 percent have substance abuse issues.
Commissioner Sharpe pointed out that the current funding challenges facing unincorporated Arapahoe County (the areas that are not within the municipal boundaries of cities like Centennial, Cherry Hills Village, Greenwood Village, and Aurora) will be exacerbated over the next decade because the population of the county is projected to increase 23 percent from 650,000 in 2020 to 800,000 in 2030.
She felt it was important for residents to know that fully half of the county’s budget is spent on activities mandated by the state, leaving little discretion for county commissioners. Sharpe said that, if it becomes necessary, Arapahoe County commissioners may be forced to consider reducing some current services, such as drivers license testing, issuance, and renewal, because it is a state function that the county performs as a convenience to the state and to county residents.
A slide Sharpe presented said it this way. “Beyond 2021, growth in other operating funds such as for Human Services and the General Fund will put strain on balancing the budget without reductions in service levels.”
Although the news was not all good, residents who attended the town hall expressed appreciation for the opportunity to get informed and be able to ask questions of their elected commissioner and county management staff.
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