A divided Aurora City Council backs away from city-county government initiative

"As much as I support this and as much as I will always support it, I see no reason to sit here and talk about it if it ain’t going anywhere," said Mayor Steve Hogan at the April 30 council workshop.

AURORA | Divisions on Aurora City Council have shelved any plans to pursue a consolidated city-county government for the foreseeable future.

City leaders are putting the long-studied initiative aside after it became clear at an April 30 council workshop that there would not be strong support from all members of council to pursue a campaign.

A presentation on the topic itself was scrapped, while the resulting discussion was launched at the behest of the initiative’s supporters.

“I think for the benefit of the public we should have this discussion,” said At-Large Councilman Bob LeGare. “We spent, what, $400,000 to $600,000 studying this and then we just left it hanging because the support for it waned in the years we were studying?”

Mayor Steve Hogan noted that he still firmly believes in the idea of Aurora splitting off from Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, but he said that it could not be done without the firm backing of most members of council.

“The two entities that have gone to city-and-county status, Denver and Broomfield — neither one of them have looked back. If you asked them if it was the right decision to make, they’d have said yes, it was the right decision to make. … They understand what you can do as a city and a county,” Hogan said. “But the advantage that each of them had was that their governing body was together when it came time to do the campaign.

“Heck, even if we went around the table right now and it was 6-5 or maybe even 7-4 in favor of doing this, I’d still say those are horrible odds for trying to get something passed. … So, as much as I support this and as much as I will always support it, I see no reason to sit here and talk about it if it ain’t going anywhere.”

A 2014 report commissioned by the city from Maryland-based TischlerBise estimated a city-county consolidation would cost about $325 million over a 20-year period.

Ward V Councilman Bob Roth said he was disappointed that an earlier presentation of the city-county model “colored people’s opinion” because it did not assume a number of economies of scale that come from a consolidated government.

“It was in the red for the first eight or 10 years … based on a flawed evaluation, in my opinion,” Roth said, saying that it was hard to overcome once a revised presentation was created. “It was a much better picture, but people already had that bitter taste in their mouth, I believe.”

One such revision was based on not including a prison, and even those figures were questioned by at least one council member.

“I think the jail costs were vastly underestimated,” said Ward VI Councilwoman Francoise Bergan, who also said she was skeptical of the estimation of the mill levy required to adequately fund a consolidated government.

Despite the reservations expressed during the workshop, Hogan remained pointedly in favor of the initiative.

“I’ve always been a supporter of city-county, and I always will be. And it has little to do with the numbers and it has everything to do with making your own decisions and being in charge of your own future,” Hogan said. “We’ve constantly run into situations where we say to ourselves, ‘Gee, it sure would have been nice if we’d have been able to make that decision instead of having somebody else make that decision for us.’ That happens every year on some big issue and it’s happened every year for decades, literally decades. So my position is not changed.”

Ward I Councilwoman Sally Mounier and Ward IV Councilman Charlie Richardson, despite varying views on the city-county initiative, both signaled that a special election in spring 2017 might be the best time to pursue a city-county vote if support materializes. Both of them have sought to ask voters about Aurora’s photo red-light system during a spring special election.

“I think theoretically you could put a city-county in April and have enough time, but I don’t think you’ve got the votes,” Mounier said.

LeGare echoed some of the mayor’s sentiments, but added that Broomfield and Denver had much stronger commercial tax revenues at the time of their city-county consolidations compared to Aurora.

“I’m of the opinion that city and county is the right answer at some point in our city’s future … but it’s probably 20 years or 30 years from now when the Gaylord incentive is paid off and E-470 is lined with commercial buildings,” LeGare said. “That’s when I think it makes sense.”

At-Large Councilwoman Barb Cleland added that even if there was strong local support, proponents would need to win over state lawmakers to put the measure to a statewide voter.

“Logistically, it will not make sense to the voters in the state to do this,” Cleland said.

— Aurora Sentinel reporter Rachel Sapin contributed to this report.

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