AURORA | Aurora residents paying their water bill also help fund the Aurora Economic Development Council, the city’s main partner in attracting primary jobs.
In November, city council members agreed to pay $550,000 to the organization. $200,000 of that comes from Aurora Water, an enterprise fund that “receives all funding through rates, fees and specials sales, such as the WISE Partnership,” according to department spokesman Greg Baker.
When city council took on the allocation last month, members were generally supportive, saying the investment is well worth it for the city. Councilman Bob LeGare said AEDC typically more than doubles the city’s investment.
“When I saw the flurry of emails that suggested this should not be funded, and we should take the money and put it into roads or police officers, I asked the CEO for some numbers and how much comes from the private sector,” LeGare said during the meeting. “It’s an average of $1.2 million that came from the private sector in 2014, 2015 and 2016.”
For the last several years the city has contributed around a half-million dollars to AEDC, with a good chunk coming from the water fund since 2012.
“As you can imagine, strong and sustainable economic growth is critical for any city, and Aurora is no exception,” Baker said. “A stable and predictable revenue stream achieved by a healthy economic environment is beneficial to enterprise funds such as Aurora Water.”
In all reality, the $200,000 is just a sliver of the budget — 0.16 percent, according to Baker. But significant spending, nonetheless.
“A strong relationship with AEDC is important to Aurora Water in order for us to be able to work cooperatively to ensure anticipated and/or new development is conscientious in its planned use of water,” Baker said. “Our contribution, which was originally approved as part of the 2012 budget process to begin in 2013, helps fund their daily activities, including job development, industry recruitment and their participation in legislative outreach.”
In 2017, the Water Department also granted AEDC $200,000, which was $200,000 too much for councilman Charlie Richardson, who ultimately ended up being the only council member that voted against the measure.
“Let me follow the logic here: The water fund is giving money to AEDC so they can go out and get businesses to use more water,” Richardson said. “That is ludicrous logic in my opinion. It gives the perception that the water fund is a cash cow. I will not support one water rate increase as long as Aurora Water has $200,000 to just send out the door to this organization.”
Councilwoman Barb Cleland agreed that money from the water fund shouldn’t be spent on AEDC, adding that the general fund would be more appropriate.
LaGare disagreed. When a new business comes to Aurora they are required to buy a water tap, which can start at around $250,000.
“What the developer gets for that water tap fee is the right to poke a hole in the pipe that we have in the ground and allow them to put in a water tap. And the city doesn’t even give them the water tap. They have to pay a plumber probably $50,000 to poke that hole,” he said.
“The bottom line is that the water department benefits greatly from the work of AEDC.”
One community member said she had concerns of the contract, highlighting specific questions of the water fund. She wanted to know what the fund was typically used for and whether any other programs are “short-changed” because of the commitment to AEDC.
Baker said because the city charter dictates budgets must be balanced, no portion can be underfunded.
AEDC CEO Wendy Mitchell and other representatives from the organization attended the meeting to answer questions, but didn’t address the water department funding concerns.
AEDC wasn’t available for further comment as of press time.