On Dec. 12, the Highlands Ranch Metro District Board of Directors approved a draft of the district's 2018 operating budget that will be finalized in January. The draft shows a 0.8 percent increase …
On Dec. 12, the Highlands Ranch Metro District Board of Directors approved a draft of the district's 2018 operating budget that will be finalized in January. The draft shows a 0.8 percent increase from 2017 — which is the lowest year-to-year increase in an operating budget that Finance Director Stephanie Stanley has seen in 11 years. In comparison, the budget increased 6.9 percent from 2016 to 2017.
“This budget is maintaining levels of service for the community,” said Stanley, adding that the “small increase” will be used to further the board of directors' priorities.
Outlined in a 2016 visioning workshop, ongoing priorities that will be addressed in 2018 include improving fire and emergency services, owning and maintain a three-acre park in the Central Park development east of Lucent Boulevard, and increasing senior services offered in the community.
The operating budget increases from roughly $20.69 million in 2017 to $20.85 million in 2018. Increases include 1.1 percent in fire and emergency services, 13.1 percent in purchased services, such as printing, copying and equipment rental, and 5.1 percent in utilities. Personal services, materials and supplies, contract maintenance and fuel and chemical products will decrease from 2017.
Below are five things to know about next year's budget.
Revenue from property tax is expected to increase by 8.9 percent, or $2.3 million, as a result of a bi-annual reassessment of property values, according to documents provided by the metro district.
Factors that impact property tax revenue include the mill levy, which remains unchanged at 18.205, and the residential assessment ratio — applied to the actual value of a property to determine the assessed value — which was reduced from 7.96 percent in 2017 percent to 7.2 percent in 2018.
Since the value of an average Highlands Ranch home went up 17.4 percent, homeowners will be paying “slightly” more in 2018, Stanley said.
Residents will notice a 4.3 percent increase, or $6.30 bimonthly, in utility bills, which include payments for water and sewer. Revenues will be used for ongoing costs, wages, benefits and the “repair of critical infrastructure,” said Stanley.
Funds will also be used for regulatory improvements to Centennial Water's wastewater treatment plant in Highlands Ranch that must be completed before 2020, per state standards, according to the metro district.
Fire and emergency services
In terms of fire and emergency services, “2018 looks very much like 2017,” said Stanley. The budget increases 1.1 percent, from $9.4 million in 2017 to $9.5 million in 2018, which is relatively low — the increase from 2016 to 2017 was 6.7 percent.
Fire and emergency services are in transition. On Nov. 29, the metro district announced that it plans to join South Metro Fire Rescue effective Jan. 1, 2019, due to increasing costs and a need for improved service and financial sustainability. Residents will vote on the merger in a special election next May. As for tax hikes in 2019, fire and emergency services generally “cost more over time,” Stanley said.
“The timing of the (tax) increase is somewhat dependent on the election,” she said.
Park and open space improvements
For 2018, the metro district is expected to receive roughly $450,000 from the Conservation Trust Fund, which is revenue from Colorado Lottery sales that is distributed to local governments for parks and recreation services.
The metro district will use the money to build a trail from the East-West Regional Trail in southern Highlands Ranch to what will be a historic park surrounding the Highlands Ranch Mansion, along with pavement improvements to the mansion's driveway. Funds will also be used to improve and restore Johnny's Pond, located west of Wind Crest, 3235 Mill Vista Road.
Major Repair Fund
Created in 2004, the Major Repair Fund provides a long-term source of funding to replace or repair aging infrastructure, such as fire stations, park facilities and metro district buildings, according to the metro district's website. The Major Repair Fund will fund the replacement of fence along portions of Lincoln Avenue and University Boulevard. The project will be completed in early 2018.
The primary funding source of the Major Repair Fund is cell site leases — when a cellular company leases the top of a streetlight from the metro district and installs a satellite receiver for better coverage in an area. In the 2018 budget, cell site leases account for $635,000 of $2.1 million in the fund. The remainder is from transfers out of the metro district's General Fund.