Like others involved in the Centennial effort, Vogt believes Greenwood Village's prime motivation in the annexation drive is to divert traffic out of the city. And he's skeptical of Greenwood's assertion that it only wants to fix the county's traffic mess.
"It's a bogus claim," he says. "They want a way to shuffle more traffic into unincorporated Arapahoe County."
Commissioners have made it clear the county can't take on the responsibility of upgrading roads. If the Greenwood Village annexation goes through and kills plans for Centennial, county officials fear they'll have to ask residents of unincorporated Arapahoe County to raise their property taxes in order to maintain law enforcement, parks and other services at existing levels. That's because many of the taxes that support those services come from commercial properties in the areas that would be annexed--and that money would flow to Greenwood Village instead.
"We'd lose one out of every seven officers," says Arapahoe County Undersheriff Grayson Robinson, who estimates the Greenwood Village annexation plan would cost his department $1 million. Although Greenwood Village officials have said they might hire any laid-off deputies, those officers would no longer patrol the neighborhoods outside the city's boundaries.
But Councilman Underhill says the fiscal impact on the county has been greatly exaggerated; he's gone so far as to compare the claim to the neo-Nazi lie that the Holocaust never happened. The fact is, Underhill says, advocates of Centennial actually see their proposed city as a way to collect tax revenue. Centennial organizers have said the city would contract with the county for such services as law enforcement, and Underhill claims Arapahoe County officials are eager to tap into those revenue sources.
"You have to ask why they're doing this," says Underhill. "We have county officials working full-time to form a new city. They've gotten some gullible citizens to try to form a city and impose a sales tax and then give the county money to provide services. This is a stalking horse to get a county sales tax."
Tens of thousands of residents had been living contentedly in a large swath of unincorporated Arapahoe County that runs from Broadway on the west to Gun Club Road on the east. Comfortable and quiet, these neighborhoods receive police protection from the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office, park and recreation programs from the South Suburban parks district, and zoning and other services from the county. While over the years the area has become increasingly urban, no one seemed much interested in forming a city government until word of Greenwood Village's planned annexation spurred county leaders into action.
And Greenwood Village certainly tried to keep things quiet as long as it could. In a memo discussing the proposed annexation last December, Greenwood Village city manager Steven Crowell told councilmembers that "keeping an annexation of this magnitude 'secret' may be very difficult. The use of a consultant may facilitate the ability to keep certain aspects of the annexation secret; however, I think it would be difficult to do. Considerations should be given to how, if at all, the county should be involved in this process."
Vogt says a small group of people meeting to work on the Arapahoe County master plan first heard rumors about the annexation plan last spring. Civic leaders from across the unincorporated portions of the county began talking and came to the conclusion that forming a new city was the only way to prevent Greenwood's expansion.
"In a way, Greenwood Village did us an enormous favor," says Vogt. "If they hadn't come along with their proposal, we might have plodded along for years without realizing we had this pot of gold in retail."
Then the race began to see who could move the fastest. Colorado law is vague on whether incorporations of more than 10,000 people should have precedence over annexations, so both sides believed that whoever filed first would have the upper hand.
Greenwood Village filed its annexation petitions with the city clerk in early October, but they weren't accepted by the city council until October 19. Centennial organizers gathered signatures on incorporation petitions the weekend of October 17, keeping the effort secret until the last minute so that Greenwood Village couldn't call an emergency council meeting to approve the annexations. The Centennial petitions were filed in court on October 19, a few hours before Greenwood okayed its annexation plan. From there, it was a fast trip for both sides to Judge Leopold's courtroom.