Should Arapahoe County De-Bruce; 2 different viewpoints

Arapahoe County is getting ready to pile on

Yes, it is true, Arapahoe County is preparing to place a ballot measure on the ballot to De-Bruce the county.

While our voters are currently being manipulated by the state’s Proposition HH ballot language, Arapahoe County wants to get in on the scheme.  They want to create some crafty ballot language of their own. That’s what I call “Piling On.”

The Taxpayer Bill of Rights has served Colorado and Arapahoe County Government well for over thirty years.  Establishing an adequate governmental budget is all about setting the correct priorities.  The only thing that makes this challenging is that sometimes the state and federal governments take our tax dollars and then promise to give some of it back if we follow their priorities.

I know a little something about this subject matter.  I served as an Arapahoe County Commissioner for twelve years.  Ten of those twelve years I was on the county’s Executive Budget Committee.  Prior to that I spent four years on the County’s Citizen’s Budget Committee.  (It is my understanding that this committee was eliminated by the Commissioners because they were asking too many tough questions.  They were also insisting that tough decisions be made by the Commissioners.  Nothing like giving the citizens a voice in the budget process by taking away their microphone.)

I wonder if the Commissioners really thought this issue through. Many citizens are already concerned about their high property assessment values.  (A concern not shared by the Governor, or he would call for a special session and lower our assessment ratios.)  Many senior citizens are wondering if they can afford their homes going forward.  Many young people are wondering if they can afford rent on their apartments going forward.  The Arapahoe County Commissioners decided to pile on by making these same people pay higher taxes by raising county property taxes.  (I can’t wait for one of the Commissioners to text me explaining that renters don’t pay property taxes.  Yes, but the landlords the majority party in the legislature has been abusing over the past five years do pay property taxes.  These same landlords will pass this increase onto their renters.)

I was proud in 2016 to leave Arapahoe County in very good financial condition.  At the same time, the bond rating agencies raised the county’s bond rating.  It took a lot of hard work from my colleagues and myself practicing fiscal responsibility back then. We had a rule of thumb – when our citizens’ personal budgets are being squeezed and they are hurting don’t pile on by raising taxes.

Contact the Arapahoe County Commissioners and ask them to re-consider their thoughts about De-Brucing the county.

Rod Bockenfeld is a state legislator who represents eastern Arapahoe County.  He previously served three terms as an Arapahoe County Commissioner and currently sits on Colorado’s Joint Budget and House Appropriations Committees.  Contact him at rod@bockenfeld.com.

Arapahoe County’s fiscal reality

If you’re an Arapahoe County resident and you haven’t heard about our funding challenges, you soon will. That’s because as your elected leaders, we are prioritizing the transparency of our fiscal reality and the likely impacts it will have on you and your family. Decades of strain on current revenues – coupled with historic growth and unprecedented circumstances over the last three years – put immense pressure on our budget, requiring us to reevaluate funding priorities. Now is the time to stabilize our funding sources and modernize our finances. 

Our long record of responsible budget management and good stewardship helped us consistently balance our budget. But it also meant deferring maintenance on roads and facilities, as well as limiting public safety investments. In fact, not taking steps to modernize our finances sooner also meant the county couldn’t provide the community services we should or provide the level of service our residents expect. In the past 20 years, the cost to provide services has increased dramatically, yet we have not asked for a voter-approved funding increase other than a quarter-cent sales tax that maintains our open spaces.

We were fortunate to use one-time emergency funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to provide critical services, such as piloting homelessness programs, absorbing inflationary cost increases, and fixing infrastructure issues. That funding ends in 2025, but the demand for these essential services remains. With as many as 120,000 new residents projected to move into the County by 2030, the fiscal constraints will only expand.

The County has significant infrastructure, public safety and general service needs, and funding has not kept pace with inflation or community expectations. For example:

 • Our five-year infrastructure action plan – designed to maintain existing assets – is historically underfunded by $15 million annually. Making things worse is the County’s backlog of repairs for vital infrastructure and facilities that total over $500 million. This consistent underfunding means these assets have declined, while the cost to repair them escalates considerably the longer they are delayed. 

• The Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office is a well-respected, three-time accredited organization that provides a wide range of community services. But the cost to attract, retain, and train law enforcement officers continues to rise – alongside the cost of providing law enforcement services themselves. 

• Caring for the most vulnerable in our community—children and older adults—is a top priority and the demand for these services is skyrocketing. This includes providing crucial support to families and individuals experiencing housing and food insecurity, and programs that help create pathways out of poverty and provide for greater self-sufficiency. 

The stark reality is that without new sources of revenue, the Board will be forced to eliminate or reduce these vital county services. Neighboring counties that have de-Bruced and have additional funding sources such as sales taxes have been better able to keep pace with necessary capital improvements, growth, and expenses. 

We will continue working toward our goal of making Arapahoe County the number one place to live and raise a family. But our success depends on a solid partnership with County residents and elected officials. We hope you’ll join us to help address these real challenges.

– The Arapahoe County Board of County Commissioners – Carrie Warren-Gully, Jessica Campbell-Swanson, Jeff Baker, Leslie Summey and Bill L. Holen