The city of Aurora is still moving forward with its agreement to reduce the number of officers per population ratio, even though every on-duty Aurora police officer was needed at a New Year's disturbance at the Red Lion Hotel.
In August, the Aurora City Council unanimously voted to reduce the city requirement from 2 officers per 1,000 people to 1.6 officers per 1,000 people. The alternative could have meant asking voters for a new tax increase.
"Is the Red Lion incident an example of 'Aurora does need more police officers?'" 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger asked Aurora city councilman Bob FitzGerald.
"No. At the time of the incident, the 2 per 1,000 ratio was in effect," said FitzGerald.
In 1993, Aurora voters overwhelmingly approved a new 0.25 percent sales and use tax to staff two officers per 1,000 people. The last year Aurora had the required number of officers was in 2006.
In 2007, the city had 1.98 officers per 1,000 residents. In 2008, it had 1.97. And in 2009, the ratio was down to 1.94 per 1,000 residents.
Under a new agreement between the city council and the police union, the ratio can drop as low as 1.6 officers per 1,000 residents over the next 10 years. However, the city can never have fewer than 658 police staff which was the number of employees last fall.
"I'm very comfortable with that number and the way we do policing in Aurora," said FitzGerald.
Regarding the Red Lion incident, Police Chief Daniel Oates told 7NEWS, "This was an aberration. We are working with the parties involved in this event to make sure this kind of thing never happens again."
What Happens To 1993 Sales & Use Tax?
7NEWS wanted to know what's going to happen to the sales and use tax money if the police-to-population ratio will no longer be 2 per 1,000.
This is the text of the 1993 ballot issue approved by voters:
"SHALL AURORA'S TAXES BE INCREASED BY $5,000,000 ANNUALLY, COMMENCING IN 1994, FOR MORE POLICE PROTECTION AND MORE DETENTION SPACE, AND BY WHATEVER ADDITIONAL AMOUNTS ARE RAISED ANNUALLY THEREAFTER, FROM A .25% SALES AND USE TAX, TO BE SPENT AS A VOTER-APPROVED REVENUE CHANGE AND AN EXCEPTION TO THE LIMITS WHICH WOULD OTHERWISE APPLY, TO PERMIT: 1) INCREASED STAFFING OF THE AURORA POLICE DEPARTMENT, INCLUDING CIVILIAN SUPPORT STAFF AND NECESSARY FACILITIES AND EQUIPMENT TO PROVIDE A MINIMUM OF TWO UNIFORMED POLICE OFFICERS PER 1000 PERSONS POPULATION IN 1996 AND THEREAFTER; AND 2) OPERATION AND MAINTENANCE OF THE MUNICIPAL DETENTION FACILITY, WITHOUT LIMITING OR AFFECTING THE COLLECTION OR SPENDING OF OTHER REVENUES?
"The way I read that statute, if Aurora is not applying that quarter percent of sales and use tax revenue that was authorized by voters specifically for law enforcement, then they're breaking the law," said attorney John Zakhem.
1993 Police Tax For 2012 Libraries?
According to FitzGerald, the tax money will continue to be collected and counted as part of the general budget.
"What I hope will happen with the money, (is that) it will go into the general fund, and I hope we'll keep the Mission Viejo library open," said FitzGerald.
He also wants to develop two or three computer sites in north Aurora, instead of typical library book locations.
Voters have twice rejected ballot proposals to keep libraries funded and open in Aurora, including two attempts to keep funding the Mission Viejo library near Hampden Avenue and Chambers Road.
"Don't (voters) have an expectation that it's going to go toward only police?" asked Zelinger.
"I think there was that expectation in 1993. I think what happened though, is the voters approved this as an ordinance, not a charter change, so they allowed the council to deal with whatever we thought was conceivably necessary," said FitzGerald. "I think the voters will get everything they expected."
"If some of this money goes to a library, is that allowed?" Zelinger asked Zakhem.
"The way I read that statute; the money that was raised pursuant to that law being enacted by the voters, they have to spend that money for the purposes that the voters said," said Zakhem.
"Because it says, 'for more police protection and more detention space,' the city council's bound by that?" asked Zelinger.
"That's the purpose that the voters approved that tax increase and that's the law in Aurora and they're bound to follow it," said Zakhem. "As long as the city council is spending the quarter percent of the sales and use tax on the law enforcement objective specified in that statute, they're doing what the voters required them to do."
Aurora expects to save $40 million over the next 10 years, with a reduced ratio. After 10 years, the ratio is supposed to climb back up to 1.9 officers per 1,000 residents.
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