aurora city council members

FILE PHOTO: The Aurora City Council, complete with four newly-inducted members, meet on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. 

The Aurora City Council has a pattern of voting on proposals without any idea of how much the policies could cost the city, some councilmembers say.

And those councilmembers want that to change.

The council will soon consider a resolution that could mandate fiscal notes with any proposal that will affect the city’s budget. Councilmembers Alison Coombs and Juan Marcano introduced an early version of the plan at council’s Monday night study session.

Mayor Mike Coffman, who has voiced strong support for the idea, is working with Coombs to refine the resolution before it returns to the full council for formal consideration.

Coffman said fiscal notes are an imperfect science, but that councilmembers should at least have a cost estimate before voting on new policies.

“Even if it just says, ‘No fiscal impact,’” Coffman said, later adding that “there’s no excuse” for not having fiscal notes.

“Council cannot be making decisions without understanding the costs, the ramifications of what they are doing. This is just basic government,” he said.

The obvious complication for the proposal emanates from the fact that council is a legislative body. It can choose to deliberate – or not – any proposal before it.    

If the resolution put forward on Monday passed, there still would not be much penalty for proposals without a fiscal note, Coombs said, adding it's up to the council to enforce such rules. Proposals would be subject to continuation, or in other words postponed to a later meeting, if a fiscal note hasn’t been prepared, Coombs said, but that would still require a vote and approval from a council majority.

Coombs said it is standard practice for government bodies to use fiscal notes. Council rules already require members to give staff adequate time to prepare a cost analysis, she said, but the rule has not been followed or proposals have come forward too quickly for staff to take on the task.

Councilmember Angela Lawson asked how much information councilmembers and staff would need to include in a fiscal note. She’s presented fiscal notes in the past and wasn’t sure if they included enough background, she said. Marcano said it should include “at a bare minimum, an estimated number of the budgetary impact.” 

Councilmember Dustin Zvonek also threw his support behind the plan, pointing out it would be up to city staff “to do their best estimate of what the cost will be,” while council should recognize, he added, that those are static numbers.

“It’s a useful data point, and I think we should have it for every bill or everything, every proposal that’s brought forward,” he said.

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Coffman said preparing the fiscal notes should not be a burden to staff because they’ll quickly get the hang of preparing them. City Manager Jim Twombley said the time it would take staff to complete a fiscal analysis will likely depend on the complexity of the specific proposal.

The mayor discussed giving Coombs and Marcano’s resolution more teeth by clearly laying out procedures for when an item is introduced as part of a regular budget process or outside of it. If something is approved within the budget but the fiscal analysis is off or funds run out early, staff should return to council with a supplemental budget request, he said.

Coffman also said an amendment he proposed would place the burden on any councilmember seeking a tax cut outside of the normal budgetary process to determine where within the budget the city would “draw that savings from.”

Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky said Coffman’s remarks were directed toward an upcoming tax cut proposal she is preparing.

“If you want to call me out, just call me out,” Jurinsky said, adding a surplus exists in the city's budget out of overtaxing citizens and businesses.

“I’m not sure why, in that scenario, I would need to find a way to replace that money and then further somehow tax or implement a fee on something else,” Jurinsky said.

It wasn’t the first time talk of fiscal notes sparked a tense back-and-forth among councilmembers. While lawmakers weighed a proposal from Jurinsky at the Sept. 12 council meeting, Marcano immediately asked why it did not have a fiscal note attached.

“I’m beginning to see this becoming a pattern with a lot of things that this council is bringing forward,” Marcano said.

The proposal’s cost — to require a minimum three-day jail sentence for people who steal more than $300 in retail good — should not have been difficult to analyze, Marcano said. The city already prosecutes thefts and should know how much it cost to house people in the municipal jail, he added. Coffman and Coombs had also weighed in, calling for fiscal notes.

Jurinsky grew frustrated, saying the councilmembers were not focusing on victims of theft, but were hijacking the conversation about her retail theft ordinance and were siding with criminals.

Although Marcano and Coombs opposed the retail theft jail sentences, Coffman supported her plan and said his desire for a fiscal note was not out of opposition to the resolution.

Coombs also told Jurinsky that requesting a fiscal note was not the same as siding with criminals.

“It’s in favor of making sure that we can actually afford the stuff that we are trying to bring forward,” Coombs said.