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Arapahoe County has a well-deserved reputation for being an efficiently-run, fiscally responsible entity. However, Arapahoe County grew by 32 percent from 2000 to 2016 to become the second largest county in the metropolitan area. By 2030, Arapahoe County is expected to become the largest county in the metro area – surpassing the City and County of Denver with more than 800,000 population.
With this rapid growth comes extreme challenges of not only keeping up with demands for new infrastructure while simultaneously maintaining our current infrastructure, such as the Detention Center (jail), roads and bridges, and the Judicial Center.
This is becoming increasingly challenging due to the increased costs of equipment, building materials and labor costs.
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The County has undertaken a comprehensive process to identify and quantify future needs. In 2016, the Board of County Commissioners established the Long Range Budget Committee. This committee, which consists of community members and County leadership, was directed to take an in-depth look at budget trends and issues. In particular, the Committee was created to study the ability of the County to fund ongoing operations, as well as address future needs for both capital and operating expenses with current revenue and outlook.
In February 2017, the committee determined that the funding necessary to improve and maintain roads, replace aging infrastructure, such as the County jail; and provide the staffing necessary to address service demands, has not kept pace with expenses. This has resulted in a in a backlog of needs that will continue to grow unless the County can identify ways to provide additional funding to meet these needs.
The issues can be grouped into four areas:
The Board of County Commissioners determined that the next critical step in the planning process would be to identify levels of service. Specifically, what levels of service currently are being provided by the County and what are the desired levels of service going forward? To guide this discussion at the 2018 Leadership Workshop, the County engaged the services of Ehlers and Associates.
Participants used a strategic process to explore current and desired levels of service for those areas that have significant long-term impacts on the finances of the County. It is important to note the discussion focused only on identifying current and desired service levels going forward. In other words, identifying the “what.” There was no discussion on “how” to achieve the targeted levels of service. That discussion will occur after further research and discussion with the residents and businesses in the County.
Ehlers is a full-service independent municipal advisory firm specializing in the development of solutions to challenges facing states, counties, cities, school districts and special districts. The Colorado Ehlers’ office was formed in 2014 after merging with Public Finance Associates, which advised clients across Colorado since 2002. Ehlers works with clients, such as Arapahoe County, to develop detailed needs assessments and help formulate appropriate solutions.
The research and the information gathered during the balance of 2018 will be critical to help guide the discussion and decisions made at the 2019 Leadership Workshop. Research will include gauging citizen viewpoints on County services and citizen knowledge of County services, infrastructure, services and revenue. Research will involve residents, business. Concurrently, the County will be taking the lead in developing additional information on long-term needs, especially as related to the detention center and transportation.
Substantial increases in east-west travel, affecting unincorporated and incorporated areas of the County, are projected through 2035. Congestion and delays cost our residents, businesses and the traveling public.
Because of budgetary constraints, investment into roads has been flat and inflation continues to erode buying power. Everyone in the County benefits from alleviating congestion. Benefits include reducing driver frustration, better air quality, improved safety and shorter response times for emergency responders. An update to the County’s transportation plan is currently underway and will be available in advance of the 2019 Leadership Workshop.
Asphalt and concrete represent more than three-fourths of the County’s total infrastructure assets of $800 million. These assets need to be protected but with flat maintenance budgets and rising costs, pavement condition is on a downward spiral.
In addition, the County owns and maintains more than $200 million in assets including bridges, signs, signals, guardrail, curbs, gutters and sidewalks. As with the other transportation-related needs, stagnation in the Road and Bridge Fund has reduced the ability of this program to perform the necessary maintenance activities. There is a serious and growing backlog of maintenance projects.
The County’s detention facility is nearing or has reached the end of its useful life. Throughout the jail, maintenance and repair demands are prevalent. Overcrowding in the Booking and Release area and space limitations present a serious safety concern for staff and inmates.
The jail was originally designed for 360 inmates but regularly houses more than 1,000 inmates resulting in the use of double and triple bunking in cells intended for single occupancy.
The Booking and Release area within the jail is substantially inadequate to meet current and growing needs. This area was designed for 29 inmates, but often holds as many as 80. Additionally, the major tasks of booking inmates, releasing inmates and transporting inmates to and from court and other entities are all conducted in this limited space, which causes the high potential for mistakes and increased liability.
There also is an ongoing discussion of needs at the adjacent Arapahoe County Justice Center including security, maintenance and courtroom space.
A more in-depth analysis of the programming and condition of the detention facility and judicial complex will get underway later this year.
Public safety and law enforcement are important to the citizens of Arapahoe County. The Sheriff’s Office is highly rated, but there are challenges in maintaining that level of citizen satisfaction going forward. Population growth and increasing demand for public safety services will steadily increase the demands on enforcement and patrol staffing.
Additionally, the seriousness of calls and resources needed to safely resolve them has increased, resulting in less time for proactive policing. Failing to meet this increased demand with proper staffing and equipment will result in a decrease in the level of service provided.
External forces – population growth, expanded service areas, salaries and benefits and inflation – create increasing demands on County services including building maintenance, technology investment and digital services.
The backbone of providing effective County service is the retention (and recruiting) of a strong, engaged and committed staff. Maintaining the status quo doesn’t mean the budget for these ongoing services can remain the same. Maintaining even the current level of service requires increased funding every year. Since the County provides more than distinct 240 services to our citizens, this is one of the most complex issues facing the County going forward.