Recommended budget leverages limited funding to maintain services, build new health department and enhance public safety
Arapahoe County commissioners today premiered a $498 million Recommended 2023 Budget, which includes funding for a new public health department, a commitment to retain the County’s workforce, and addresses necessary public safety items to maintain current service levels for Colorado’s third largest county.
“The 2023 recommend budget is reflective of the County’s goals: to be fiscally sustainable, provide essential and mandated services and be community focused,” said Commissioner Nancy Jackson, chair of the board. “But for the unprecedented one-time federal pandemic funds, the County would have had to make even tougher budget decisions than the ones faced by the committee this year. Arapahoe County is a diverse and vibrant place where residents and businesses thrive. Maintaining county services to achieve that vision will require more community conversations in the years ahead.”
With the pandemic and supply-chain issues continuing to impact economic recovery and inflation rates, the County saw a larger increase in property tax revenue compared to 2022 due to a solid real estate market and construction activity combined with much higher inflation. Similar to municipalities, sales tax revenue solely dedicated to the County’s open space program continues to see growth. Funding from State and Federal sources continues to be significant, as the American Rescue Plan and other stimulus programs will allow the County to continue to respond to lingering impacts of the pandemic without having to use significant County resources to do so.
The largest expenditure for the County continues to be employee salaries and benefits, especially given the current job market and increasing costs of compensation. While there is always the pressure of rising material and labor costs, this year’s dramatic increase in inflation across a wide variety of commodities and sectors creates extra budgetary concern.
Despite these challenges, the structurally balanced budget maintains key programs for residents that include familiar things like motor vehicle registration and voter services as well as increasing public safety by funding programs for the Sheriff and Human Services department. Despite a list of $26.4 million in new general fund requests, only about $6 million was available after funding mandated programs and services.
The largest allocation in the 2023 budget goes straight to retaining county staff who provide more than 240 programs and services. The Executive Budget Committee, which drafts the recommended budget, proposed an increase of 202 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees, to at total of 2,551. The budget includes competitive merit and market adjustments to help the County stay retain and recruit employees. The committee also recommended the county increase its contribution to retirement program to maintain sustainability.
“Residents know us because of our amazing team,” said Commissioner Carrie Warren-Gully. “They are the lifeblood of the County, providing critical and essential services. And in this competitive market, we need to ensure we can keep and develop them because our residents count on them every day.”
The new Arapahoe County Public Health Department will have a budget of $21.3 million, of which nearly 70% is funded by grants, contracts, and fees for service. The new department will provide residents a wide variety of consumer protection and community health services, ranging from restaurant, childcare and wastewater inspections to immunizations, nursing supports, WIC and sexual health/HIV testing as well as responding to communicable disease incidents and implementing preventative health programs. Residents can continue to access programs and services at four locations within the County—consistent with the footprint of the former Tri-County Health Department.
The County's portion of funding budgeted for the public health department is $6 million, which represents a $778,000 increase from what the County contributed to the Tri-County Health Department in 2022. The majority of public health expenditures (about 80%) are allocated for employee salary and benefits. The County is utilizing up to $2.9 million in ARPA funds to address one-time transition costs associated with the dissolution of the district health agency, such as new technology and equipment.
“This really is a feat—to pull off the creation of a public health department in one year. And to do it with a minimal impact to the budget is astounding,” said Commissioner Nancy Sharpe, who has witnessed 12 years of budgets in her time with the County.
With millennials flocking to Colorado in record numbers, the County’s budget has increased in size but always under the TABOR cap, which limits the revenue the County can keep. That leaves little room for big things like deferred maintenance and transportation projects.
The recommended budget includes $13.7 million in capital improvement projects with most of the dollars going toward roadways and facility projects.
With a long list of deferred maintenance projects, Commissioners authorized $6.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars to offset inflationary costs associated with important deferred capital projects as well as fund several one-time projects, including a countywide fiberoptic cable study, equipment for the coroner, and a back-up generator for the Elections Warehouse.
“It’s important to note that the Capital Improvement Project funding in a $500 million budget is $13 million dollars,” said Commissioner Jeff Baker, a member of the Executive Budget Committee. “We are woefully underfunded for capital improvements, and we need to change that.”
Commissioner Bill Holen agreed and said the County can’t continue holding off on important capital projects. “One of the strategic priorities for the Board is to address these kinds of needs,” he said. “We were able to supplement it with ARPA dollars this year, but we can see the road ahead and it’s expensive and we need to act soon.”
The budget creation comes at a critical time for the County, which is experiencing record population and job growth coupled with two looming—and expensive—projects. First, setting up a new public health department after the dissolution of Tri-County Health. Second, the splitting of the 18th Judicial District, leaving Arapahoe County as the sole inheritor.
Commissioners planned for both projects, setting aside funds in the 2022 and 2023 budgets to offset associated costs. But the big-ticket items are putting a strain on an already lean budget.
“Arapahoe County has a long track record of fiscal responsibility which has benefitted residents for years,” said Commissioner Nancy Sharpe. “We are known for doing more with less, which is why we’ve been able to meet service demands for years without raising taxes. We are proud of that, and we’re focused on how to continue that into the future.”
Arapahoe County received $127 million in one-time federal funding, allocating $123 million to date in a variety of programmatic areas based on community input. “Considering innovative programs to pilot and identifying long-term, strategic investments that would benefit residents for years to come was a priority,” said Jackson. “We also wanted to secure our County’s fiscal health, leveraging these one-time funds to improve the sustainability of the County’s budget.”
Consistent with the Board’s strategic plan, which prioritized taking care of existing assets and addressing deferred maintenance, the Board has allocated $44 million in ARPA and existing fund balance to address the most significant medical and operational needs at the detention center. This interim project will add medical facilities by renovating existing space, relocating deteriorating laundry and kitchen utilities to a new area to meet population needs. One-time federal funds also are helping to increase the number of available childcare slots within the county, provide food assistance grants to nonprofits, construct a new Aurora Mental Health Safety Net Campus, expand STRIDE dental clinic space, advance homelessness navigation centers on the west and east sides of the county, support health and STEM talent pipelines, and provide K12 school districts with grant funds to expand mental health programs.
Commissioners have already begun working with County leadership to solidify a Strategic Plan that provides direction for programs and services into the future. They hope to tie General Fund allocation to that plan to maximize every dollar. In the meantime, Finance Director Todd Weaver is glad to get the budget out for public review.
“The 2023 Recommended Budget is a balanced operational budget. It shows that we don’t budget beyond our means to pay for ongoing services,” he said. “It also enhances our financial sustainability by not dipping into our savings account to keep the lights on and pay staff. It demonstrates our fiscal responsibility of taxpayer dollars.”
After today’s Public Hearing, the budget will be adopted at the Board’s Dec. 6 Business Meeting. View a copy of 2023 Recommended Budget.