The Broomfield Connection: Civic Engagement and the Creation of a Consolidated City and County

Back to Issue

By Charles Ozaki

The City and County of Broomfield, Colorado, is located halfway between downtown Denver and the University of Colorado in Boulder. Originally a farming community, Broomfield is thought to have gotten its name from the broom corn stalks that were grown there and used in the manufacture of commercial brooms.

Post-World War II United States government policies and a booming regional economy set the stage for residential development in what had been open fields and farmland. Officially known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of the 1944, the GI Bill provided veterans with tuition for higher education and loan guarantees for homes, farms and businesses. At the peak of this program, veterans comprised 49 percent of college admissions.

Many of these veterans were people who would otherwise not have had the resources or opportunities to go to college and qualify for jobs requiring higher education, the sort of jobs that were opening up near Broomfield thanks to nearby employers such as the University of Colorado, the Rocky Flats nuclear plant, the federal laboratories in Boulder, IBM, Western Electric and Storage Tek.

In part because Broomfield was in the southeast corner of Boulder County and at the far northeast corner of Jefferson County, basic county services were headquartered ten miles away. As a result, Broomfield’s residents—many of whom were self-sufficient veterans with roots in small-town America—began to build their own community institutions from the ground up. For example, they elected a local justice of the peace who held court in his living room.

In the 1950s, the Turnpike Land Company purchased land along the road between Denver and Boulder to develop the new community of Broomfield Heights. The company envisioned a modernistic, highly planned residential development with the most up-to-date appliances and amenities offered, one of which was creating a garbage free environment by installing electric garbage disposals in every house.

Shortly after development of Broomfield Heights, residents began discussing incorporating as a city. The first vote for incorporation included both the new area of Broomfield Heights and the more rural area of Old Broomfield and the vote failed. A second vote that excluded Old Broomfield from the city limits was held and it passed in 1961. The city grew rapidly after incorporation as the city annexed land in Jefferson, Adams and Weld counties.

The Broomfield Connection

In the early 1990s, a group of residents gathered to start discussions about preventing youth behavioral and health problems through good parenting and identifying overall human service needs. This group, the Broomfield Connection, conducted a needs assessment that concluded that the community lacked programs to address these issues. Human services are typically provided by county governments, and members of the group believed that Broomfield, which lay within the boundaries of four different counties, may have been underserved in part because the city’s location. The overlap and under-recognition or confusion about service responsibilities of multiple county governments was considered a fundamental issue to be addressed.

This original group of Broomfield residents had engaged with a program started by the State of Colorado and conducted by the staff of the National Civic League, who provided training in David Hawkins’ Communities that Care System for prevention, which appears to have been the source of the initial spark of Broomfield caring that contributed to the process that eventually led to the creation of the City and County of Broomfield.

Although addressing youth behavioral issues had been the original impetus for the Broomfield Connection, the group pursued a more holistic approach to addressing community issues and requested a partnership with the city government to engage other residents throughout the community to openly discuss needs, issues, solutions and a vision for the future of Broomfield. The Broomfield City Council approved an agreement that paid for the group’s costs to conduct a series of nine professionally facilitated outreach visioning meetings held throughout the community. The combined effort resulted in the following vision statement that was formally approved by the Broomfield City Council and was intended to reflect the overall community sentiment for the future.

Imagine our community, Broomfield, as a city with a strong sense of unity, pride and identity as a modern city inspired by its community spirit. Broomfield is characterized by planning that balances residential and commercial land use with generous open space, parks and natural areas. Residents enjoy a full array of employment opportunities, recreational, retail, and human services which are readily accessible to people of all ages. The quality of life for Broomfield residents is highlighted by excellent education, public safety, an outstanding transportation system, and supportive, proactive citizens in strong neighborhoods. Broomfield has a diverse economic base and plans growth to maintain and enhance our sense of community and small-town flavor.

The Broomfield Connection also recommended several vision implementation actions including the formation of a task force to interface with the city and community. Twenty-eight members were recommended for the task force. One of the clear messages from the visioning process was that access to county provided human services and other services needed to be addressed.

As the follow-on to the direction that was received from the Community Vision Statement and the suggestions made by the Broomfield Connection, the Broomfield City Council appointed a 13-member steering committee to devise a process for developing a formal strategic plan and updating the city’s master plan. The committee included one resident from each of the five wards; one member each from the Broomfield Connection, Broomfield Senior Resources, Broomfield Open Space Advisory Committee, Broomfield Ad Hoc Schools Task Force and the Planning and Zoning Commission, as well as three councilmembers. Organizational representatives were expected to continually report back to their groups.

During this time, Broomfield also faced the issue of high residential growth impacting the quality of life for existing residents and the city continued to increase engagement with residents through neighborhood discussions about all the issues and options related to managing growth. Broomfield had committed to take on substantial debt in order to expand its water and sewer systems to accommodate growth and since the commitment had already been made there was substantial risk in cutting off the sources of income from growth that were needed to defuse the debt.

These topics were shared openly with residents as they expressed their concerns. The concept of allocating residential building permits to better manage the impact of growth and address concerns came through the public process and was adopted by the city council in 1998 and Broomfield has also continued to enhance its water supply to extent that it will soon be able to serve future growth through build out.

Broomfield hired the National Civic League to facilitate the work of the steering committee in updating the master plan and creating a strategic plan. The Community Vision Statement and the implementation outline prepared through the efforts of the Broomfield Connection informed the work of the steering committee. The steering committee invited the community to participate in its efforts by holding community meetings. The Broomfield Master Plan described the policies governing future land uses and related services and the Broomfield Strategic Plan described how to implement the master plan.

The first element of the formally adopted strategic plan was titled Sense of Community.

The vision for the element was stated as follows:

Where we want to be:
Broomfield values a strong sense of identity and pride created by a self-supporting community with proactive citizens of all ages with solid neighborhood networks.

In describing how to get there, the first recommendation was:
Create the City and County of Broomfield.

The rationale for the recommendation was:
The city is currently split among four counties complicating service delivery and dividing the community. Channels for participation at the county level are fragmented and effectiveness is diluted. Inefficiency, overlap, and duplication of services are probable outcomes of four counties serving a single city. Cooperation among the four counties is difficult due to differing constituencies, fiscal disparity, conflicting priorities, and contrasting values.

The recommended actions steps were:

  • Determine required steps under Colorado law to establish a city/county.
  • Assess financial feasibility of providing county services.
  • Gauge citizens desire to establish Broomfield as a city/county by placing an advisory question on the November 1996 ballot.
  • Determine if city/county creation should be pursued by City Council pending additional detailed financial analysis.
  • Draw desired boundaries of a future city/county.
  • If necessary, pursue initiation of a statewide ballot issue through the petition process leading to a statewide vote in the fall of 1998.

The Broomfield City Council adopted the community recommended strategic plan and city staff planned and managed the feasibility assessment. After reviewing a preliminary assessment of the financial feasibility of providing county services, the city council placed the advisory question about becoming a city/county on the ballot in November 1996, and it passed by a two-thirds vote.

The council reviewed the more detailed positive financial analysis prepared by staff in 1997 and directed the staff to work toward finalizing the boundaries for the future city/county by negotiating with landowners to complete annexations and with a county to complete de-annexation of the county’s owned land.

In 1998, the council directed the mayor and the city manager to work with the Colorado General Assembly to approve placing an amendment to the state constitution to create the City and County of Broomfield on the 1998 ballot. Both houses of the state legislature passed the approval by the minimum two-thirds vote and the question was placed on the ballot.

When the draft constitutional amendment was first proposed, it also authorized Broomfield to form one school district within its boundaries. This was a follow up on prior public discussions about six school districts (three of which had a larger number of students than the others) operating in Broomfield and having an impact on the sense of community.

The second school question was disallowed due to a rule that only allows one question at a time to appear on the ballot, but it raised enough concern on the part of one school district that an intergovernmental agreement was negotiated with Broomfield promising to not pursue one school district in the future.

A very active citizens group, including some of whom which were originally involved with the Broomfield Connection, campaigned throughout the state for passage of the constitutional amendment and the question passed by a two-thirds vote of all state voters in the November 1998 statewide election. It was the first new county to be form in Colorado since 1913 and one of only two city and counties in the state, the other being Denver. The City and County of Denver was formed by adoption of a constitutional amendment in 1902.

Looking back and assessing the character and sentiment of the community today, many residents have stated that Broomfield has retained its small town and hometown feeling while constantly growing and transmitted this to new residents as they have arrived over the passage of time. Perhaps this is a tribute to the strong values and social foundation established by the original founders of the community who are from the greatest generation that fully protected the American way of life that they were then especially enabled to live through the actions of Congress and the President after World War II.

Can such thoughtful governance be repeated in the future to address current problems? The city government’s willingness to engage in many discussions with residents on a wide spectrum of issues and problems has led to considering and implementing many beneficial ideas and proposals.

Implementing a Reformed City and County Government

The constitutional amendment provided Broomfield three years to transition to city that is also a county. The amendment also prescribed that Broomfield’s form of government and finances would be governed by its home rule charter. The charter prescribes the mayor/city council/city manager from of government.

Broomfield does not have separately elected officials who head county departments, which is typical in county governments, and so all departments and functions of the city and county are coordinated and managed through the city and county manager. This structure provides for a reformed county government that is less susceptible to stove piped departments that create duplicated efforts such as setting up individual department accounting, purchasing, personnel and information technology functions and individual accountability only to the electorate by elected department heads. Broomfield provides central shared and unduplicated services to departments and maintains direct accountability to the manager, and the manager is directly accountable to the mayor and city council.

Broomfield implemented many innovations in program and responsibility assignment and department structuring. One of the major innovations was done out of necessity, when during the transition period Broomfield was informed that it could not join the Tri-County Health Department and needed to form one of its own.

To meet the new challenge, the city and county formed a Broomfield Health and Human Services Department, where their mutually supportive functions are coordinated in one department rather between two traditionally separate departments. The original facility that was planned to house only the human services department was stretched to accommodate health services and fifteen years later a new facility was designed and built for both.

The overall policy work and program performance reviews is coordinated through the city and county manager because the city council acts as both the Broomfield Board of Social Services and the Broomfield Board of Health. The health and human services department also hosts the Workforce Employment Center and through its proximity supports department client needs along with the public’s needs. The department delivers the state funded programs that residents many years ago were concerned were not fully available in Broomfield. When Broomfield initially researched the client load of residents of the several counties, it numbered in the hundreds. Soon after the department began operating, the client load numbered in the thousands.

In order to provide sheriff services, Broomfield constructed a county detention center and assigned the sheriff duties to the chief of police. The chief manages and coordinates the efforts of both major functions, especially the handoff of prisoners from police officers to detention officers, which occurs at the detention center or possibly in the field. An important data handoff also occurs with each prisoner, which is eased by a coordinated IT system. Before becoming the city and county, Broomfield police officers transported prisoners to county detention centers in Boulder, Golden, Brighton and Greeley. The cost of building and staffing the Broomfield detention center is offset to some extent by police transport savings.

Having police, detention, health and human services and the library under one umbrella provides an opportunity and encouragement to collaborate to address mutual issues that each department can provide support to. Prisoner rehabilitation programs can be created more easily and staffed through the participation of the various departments with the goal of lessening recidivism.

Addressing child and adult welfare cases can be more effective when the welfare division and the police are part of the same organization and are encourage to maintain good communication on cases and many police cases originate with individuals who have mental health issues rather than criminal intent and now Broomfield police jointly respond with a mental health professional from health and human services and to handoff the case.

The county clerk and recorder functions were merged with the city clerk’s office. This happened shortly before the advent of filing property records and recordings electronically, which reduced workload. Subsequently, when new property records filings workload increased due to growth, the existing staff was able to absorb it. The Broomfield City and County Clerk’s Office experiences a peak during the election season and usually needs to increase staffing above and beyond basic election judges. Working under the single city/county umbrella, calls for volunteers from other departments are usually met.

In order to meet all space needs, Broomfield co-located the municipal court with state county and district courts in the space it was required to build. Broomfield municipal court employees were trained in state court operations, so they are able to assist as backup to the state court employees and when residents come into the combined court, they see a seamless operation of the total state and municipal court system, which is unique in the state.

Overall and Financial Outcomes

Most of the goals in the original vision statement and the outline for implementation prepared by the Broomfield Connection and further articulated in the adopted 1995 Broomfield Strategic and Master plan have been accomplished or addressed and, according to a number of surveys, residents rate their quality of life much higher than other similar communities nationwide and along Colorado’s Front Range. The residents also rate their local government services much higher as well. The original concerns regarding youth behavioral and health issues have been addressed through programs sponsored by departments of the city and county and community-based programs. New issues such as vaping continue to arise.

When the county tax rates were computed to fund the county portion of the City and County of Broomfield, it was determined that cost savings could be achieved by eliminating duplication of administrative support services that were part of the financial load that counties carry and opportunities would be sought to cover new workloads with new county and existing city personnel.

With these principles in mind, a new Broomfield county mill levy was pegged at one mill less than the lowest mill levy amongst Boulder, Adams and Jefferson counties mill levies, which has not been changed since inception. Weld County’s mill levy was and is less than the other counties due to the substantial revenue they receive from oil and gas drilling and extraction development. Boulder, Adams and Jefferson Counties have increased their mill levies to varying degrees and combining this with minimizing costs and maximizing staffing utilization from throughout the city and county, Broomfield has been able to reach a comparative annual savings for its property tax payers of over $10 million per year and the trend continues to increase.

Emerging Issues

The success of Broomfield’s nonprofit organizations has been a key element of how community issues are identified and addressed in partnership with the city/county government. Positive outcomes have been achieved when a good assessment of who is best to take the lead is conducted.

The most recent issue in the community was advanced by ministers who were hearing from members of their congregations that obtaining affordable housing was a major challenge in Broomfield. The Broomfield City Council, which also sits as the Housing Authority, was receptive when a group of ministers came forward to discuss the issue. Subsequently, the city council appointed a housing advisory group to study and bring forth specific recommendations to address the issue. It’s a start for a likely worthwhile outcome.

Charles Ozaki, a Richard S. Childs Fellow, retired as Broomfield City and County Manager in 2019.

More from the issue

The mission of the National Civic League is to advance civic engagement to create equitable, thriving communities.

View All

Thank You to Our Key Partners