Aurora city council prepares to revise police ordinance

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Posted Thu, Feb 25, 2010

AURORA, COLO. — As the Aurora city council braces for another year in budget cuts, members discussed in the Jan. 29 Winter Workshop how to approach the voters to fix funding for a police staff dependant on a population ratio.

Initiated in 1996, the 2-per-1,000 program promised the residents of Aurora two police officers per 1,000 people. The program relies on the city’s sales tax, revenues from which have been declining over the last couple of years.

“There isn’t enough money for the program to continue,” said councilwoman Melissa Miller. “I think we need to face reality.”

Last year, the program reached a deficit of $2.8 million. To fund the program, the sales tax increased from .4 percent to .25 percent. The average cost of one police officer was $82,500 in 2009 and the Aurora Police Department can see up to 12 new officers per year. In addition to hiring more staff, the APD needs funding to replace critical safety equipment, sustain maintenance and continue training.

“ While we’re hiring all of these police, we have other critical needs,” Miller said.

Before the program began, there were about 1.7 officers per 1,000 people. If the program were to be cut, the city could see a third of the police workforce eliminated, according to councilwoman Sue Sandstrom.

“It’s a huge problem,” said councilman Bob Broom. “It’s a Catch-22.”

However, before the council can start the revisions on the ordinance, they must ask the voters how to approach two essential ideas: do the voters continue to pay for the program with an increased sales tax or would they reduce the amount of police officers.

“I think the residents have the right to tell us what they think,” said Miller. 

Mayor Ed Tauer commissioned councilwoman Molly Markert to head a Public Safety Committee and survey the voters to come to a consensus on a possible ballot issue due by early this summer. The mayor finished with two closing remarks: that a rigid number is bad public policy and the idea of doing nothing is a losing game.

As a city council member to participate in the drafting of the resolution, Barbara Cleland expressed her concern that the council didn’t put enough effort in revising the number of police in the program to account for fluctuations in the economy. 

“We knew within seven years ago the money wasn’t going to be enough,” said councilwoman Cleland.

The council also discussed other options of funding the 2-per-1,000 program such as proposing a higher sin tax on alcohol, cutting salaries or completely eliminating the entire program. Councilwoman Renie Peterson was concerned the public would not vote for eliminating a number of police because it would decrease the assurance in public safety. 

Councilwoman Market ended the topic by adressing the room that she will continue to seek the opinion of the Aurora Police Department staff as she gathers data from the public. 

“Don’t make us guess what would make you happy,” Markert said.

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