Through community engagement processes, leaders can be positioned to meet city demands
By Laura Perry
Like other cities across the country, the needs related to capital infrastructure are great in the City of Aurora, Colorado. More than $700 million in priority projects have been identified, ranging from transportation and public safety to recreation and resiliency.
And like other cities, funding options are limited. So, the Aurora City Council and city staff have spent the last two years analyzing creative solutions designed to care for what we have in Aurora and provide for what we need.
Every capital asset is seemingly important and valuable. With more than 60 square miles of undeveloped land, the city has a capital needs list a mile long—and a whole inventory of aging infrastructure to maintain as well. It’s a balancing act, demanding support from both city leadership and residents to develop an action plan. And with limited revenues, it is incumbent on city leadership to use tax dollars as efficiently and effectively as possible.
City officials have developed an improved capital improvement master plan that reflects both city council and community priorities. They identified the most critical operational and service needs, gathered council feedback and listened to the community’s pulse through surveys. They also considered the city’s comprehensive plan, the condition of assets, the cost, feasibility and readiness of projects and whether projects supported economic development and enhanced accessibility.
Concurrent with the prioritization process, city officials researched strategies to address the existing capital needs funding gap and seek sustainable solutions to fund capital needs more holistically. This included pursuing federal and state grant funding, offsetting costs and creating shared assets through partnerships, and identifying creative financing solutions.
With a guiding document in place, the city focused on neighborhood street maintenance as the first project to tackle. According to recent community surveys, transportation and roadway improvements in Aurora are a top priority for residents.
…with limited revenues, it is incumbent on city leadership to use tax dollars as efficiently and effectively as possible.”
In recent years, the city’s limited street maintenance dollars have been dedicated primarily to arterial and collector streets. In 2022, the condition of 58% of the city’s overall street network, including neighborhood streets, was rated fair or below, according to national standards.
The Aurora City Council identified an innovative funding solution to address this priority without raising taxes. They unanimously agreed to use $35 million in certificates of participation, which allowed the city to borrow funding by pledging several city assets as collateral until the funding was paid over time.
This funding infusion is enabling the city to catch up on backlogged maintenance work in 35 neighborhoods in 2023, restoring the streets to good condition with concrete repair, mill and overlay, surface treatments and street reconstruction. Moving forward, residential streets will be included in the city’s annual roadway maintenance plan. A five-year plan has been approved, with a strategic review planned each year.
This solution is a cause for celebration, but there is much work ahead to meet additional capital infrastructure needs. And it may take community support to address future funding issues, which requires a long-term engagement plan.
The project team developed an identity, Build Up Aurora, to support this long-term, strategic initiative to address the city’s capital infrastructure needs.
The Build Up Aurora program is designed to highlight current and future capital infrastructure projects, providing opportunities for education, community engagement, building support and celebrating promises fulfilled.
Through a variety of touchpoints during the initial residential street maintenance work and beyond, the city has committed to educating residents on the value of caring for what we have and explaining how the city can provide for what we need through additional resources and funding.
A media kickoff event, project tracker, dedicated webpage, community presentations, news stories, social media posts and more have helped disseminate Build Up Aurora messaging into the community. The project team is currently fostering neighborhood champion relationships to build trust in the community and establish grassroots support for future capital project campaigns.
Moving forward, each future capital improvement project is an opportunity to raise community awareness and excitement by fulfilling work that addresses resident priorities. Each touchpoint offers a chance to create community conversations about how Aurora is making the most of taxpayer dollars, demonstrating accountability and employing innovative solutions to deliver on the city’s responsibilities and obligations.
Collectively, this builds community confidence in the city’s ability to fulfill promises, thereby fostering community support for future Build Up Aurora projects. Through this community engagement process, we are positioning Aurora as a city that thinks and acts strategically and intentionally to address community needs now and in the future.
Laura Perry is the deputy city manager for the city of Aurora, Colorado.