Highlands Ranch Metro District unveils $13.5 million 2022 budget

Staff retention, supply issues are among concerns

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Highlands Ranch Metro District staff has unveiled the proposed budget for 2022, starting the official process toward final approval in December.

To meet state law, Metro District Finance Director Stephanie Stanley said, the staff-recommended budget was unveiled by Oct. 15. Moving forward, the Metro District Board of Directors will meet for five hours on Nov. 5 to discuss the proposed expenditures and revenue expectations.

Stanley said the proposed $13.5 million budget is a 6% increase from 2021. Stanley said the primary reason for the increase has to do with staffing and increased inflation.

As with other employers, Stanley said, employee turnover rates have increased in 2021.

“For whatever reasons, staffing levels have changed,” Stanley said. “More people are retiring, changing careers or quitting. There is a great movement with employees.”

Metro District General Manager Mike Renshaw said to combat the problem, the 2022 budget will increase how the district matches 401(k) benefits for employees. By adding a 2% contribution, Renshaw said the district is looking at an added $120,000 in the proposed budget.

Stanley said while the 2022 budget is conservative, the metro district still had to increase general fund numbers for expenditures as they anticipate the cost of inflation and the nation’s supply-chain crisis to impact the local economy.

The good news in the 2022 budget, Stanley said, is that residents are not facing added fees. The metro district is not increasing the mill levy, but Stanley stressed that property taxes may go up because assessed values are rising.

Based on how Douglas County property tax rates are divvied up, Stanley said, the metro district gets 11.5% of taxes collected in Highlands Ranch. That line-item total will likely increase as home values continue to go up along the Front Range, she said.

Another area of good news, Stanley said is the metro district is now debt free. In the early days when Highlands Ranch started growing, Stanley said debt was taken out to pay for the costs of roads and infrastructure. As home values started going up and the metro district’s revenue increased, Stanley said they worked to pay down debt.

Without debt in the upcoming year, Stanley said the metro district will be able to focus on other priorities.

Renshaw said advancing technology will be a primary focus on 2022. A proposed expenditure in the 2022 budget, Renshaw said is increasing the level of transparency for taxpayers. Renshaw said he has proposed about $12,000 in the new budget to start filming district board meetings each month. Traditionally, the board meets twice a month for a study session and regular meeting.

While the meetings are open to the public or available live through Zoom, Renshaw said recording the meetings will allow videos to be posted the week of a meeting, allowing members of the public who could not attend the live session to see what was discussed and decided.

Renshaw said every entity he has worked with has offered this service to citizens. The metro district manager said it was a priority for Highlands Ranch even before the pandemic when online meeting access became important.

Neighboring municipalities along the Front Range provide similar services, Renshaw said. The Town of Castle Rock consistently has video availability online less than 24 hours after a council meeting.

Renshaw said another aspect of technology to be improved if the 2022 budget is approved is in the parks and recreation department. With a cost of more than $130,000, Renshaw said he is proposing purchasing software that will allow parks and recreation services to track and complete required tasks throughout the community, which currently has more than 98,000 residents.

As the population has plateaued, Stanley said, the budget for growth has steadily decreased. In 2020, the district had just over $4 million in development fee revenues. In 2021 the amount was cut to $2.2 million. In 2022, Stanley expects about $1.5 million.

Sherry Eppers, community relations manager for the metro district, said the decrease in revenues is not a concern because it was planned. The buildout for Highlands Ranch was set at 100,000, she said.

The final 2022 budget is currently available online at highlandsranch.org/Home/Components/News/News/248/4. The final 2022 budget is scheduled to be approved by Dec. 13.

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