Move over, fall – it’s city budget season

Denver’s got to figure out what to spend money on next year. Here’s how that works.

Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock during the 2022 State of the City address.

Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock during the 2022 State of the City address.

Evan Semón Photography / courtesy of the Office of the Mayor.
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Everyone’s talking about the start of fall. But we’ve also started another new, even more exciting time of year — budget season. So put on your cozy sweaters, take those pumpkin muffins out of the oven and tune in. Here’s what you should know.

It’s the time of year when the mayor’s office and City Council hash out the budget for the upcoming year.

Mayor Michael Hancock released his 2023 budget two weeks ago, making it his last budget, as his third term wraps up.

Starting last Friday through the end of this week, City Council is holding televised hearings on different parts of the budget, where they hear presentations from city experts and ask questions. Then, Council has working sessions on the budget and proposes changes to the mayor by Oct. 11. There’s a public hearing on Oct. 24 and a final vote on Nov. 7.

It’s a $3.75 billion budget.

That’s up around 8 percent from last year. Of that, $1.66 billion goes to the General Fund, the main operating budget an increase of almost 11 percent from last year.

The rest of the budget is legally restricted as to how it’s used; the General Fund determines how much money different agencies, services and programs get from the city. There’s also federal American Rescue Plan Act money, one-time funds from the government for COVID-19 recovery.

The plan takes an optimistic view of the pandemic and economic recovery. So far in 2022, General Fund revenue, largely from taxes, has done better than projected — up 9.5 percent from 2021, and 5.3 percent higher than expected. Next year’s budget expects that the public health situation will improve, and that the economy will match or exceed pre-pandemic levels by the end of next year.

“While there continues to be heightened uncertainty about what the future holds, particularly as various economic sources contemplate the potential of a recession, the overall outlook used to inform the General Fund revenue forecast assumes continued economic growth,” Hancock wrote in the budget.

The Mayor’s priorities include responding to housing, crime and health issues.

“This proposed budget presents historic investments to resolve homelessness, increase our stock of affordable housing, reduce crime, and address the community’s behavioral health needs, particularly the drug streets,” Hancock wrote in the budget’s introduction. “The budget also prioritizes the reinvigoration of downtown.”

Given the proposed overall increase, lots of areas would see more money in the vision presented by the 781-page budget.

A few examples:

Denver Police would get $8.4 million to recruit new officers, representing the first time the city would budget to grow the officer force in years. There’s $1.6 million for programs that support people leaving the justice system, $1.6 million for youth mental health and $75,000 to research the potential to turn high-rise offices into housing.

Other parts of the budget include funding to continue Safe Outdoor Sites for people experiencing homelessness and case managers for people living outside and in shelters. Denver’s getting its first $8 million in a national opioid settlement, and plans to use that money for treatment. Hancock is also proposing a public health “hot spot program,” which would focus resources on areas that see a lot of overdoses, encampments and violence. There’s also $6 million for food access and $48 million for climate action, like e-bike rebates and solar.

City Council also put out a list of budget priorities, which include improving the accessibility of city services; increasing affordable housing and supporting people experiencing homelessness; reframing safety to focus on public health and anti-racism; helping local business and workforce recovery; protecting against climate change and improving transportation.

The next few weeks are the council members’ chance to respond to the mayor’s proposed budget.

You can watch hearings live, and attend a public hearing at the end of October.

The council hearings are televised live on Channel 8, which you can watch online. Here’s the full schedule for the final three days of hearings this week. Council will discuss technology, community planning and development, Denver International Airport and economic development on Wednesday; the public health, environment, transportation and infrastructure departments and public library on Thursday; and the safety, sheriff, police and fire departments on Friday.

City Council will hold a public hearing on the budget on Monday, Oct. 24 at 5:30 p.m., two weeks before the final vote.

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