City Council approves Hancock’s $3.76 billion budget

Hancock’s last budget, at the end of his final term, is up almost 10% from 2022. Council also passed an amendment to the budget to add crosswalks to each district, overriding a veto from the Mayor.

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Denver City Council voted to approve Mayor Michael Hancock’s final budget as he nears the end of his third term.

It’s an ambitious $3.76 billion plan, based on Denver exceeding tax revenue projections this past year, and expectations of further economic recovery from the pandemic. The budget is up almost 10% from 2022. The $1.66 billion general fund, which is the city’s main operating budget, is up almost 11%.

Council also voted to add money to the budget to build one new flashing crosswalk in each district. Hancock had vetoed the amendment for the crosswalks brought by Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer because it would bring the city’s reserve fund below 15%, but City Council successfully overrode the veto at Monday’s meeting.

The amendment passed almost unanimously, with Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca was the sole no vote against the budget as a whole.

What’s in the budget?

The short answer: a lot (it’s 873 pages long). Hancock’s listed priorities include housing, crime and health issues. There’s more funding for things like Safe Outdoor Sites and case managers for people experiencing homelessness. There’s also an increase in police spending, including money to grow the force for the first time in years, additional training for officers, violence prevention programs and more resources to prosecute illegal guns.

Other funding items include money for food access, youth mental health, climate action and more. The budget also allocates money from a national opioid settlement for addiction treatment, and federal pandemic recovery funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

The final budget hasn’t changed much since Hancock’s initial proposal in September, but the Mayor did approve a few extra requests from Council. These include money for stoplights, studies to improve transit at Sheridan Blvd. and Quebec St, the city’s participatory budget pilot program, security cameras at rec centers and parks and library maintenance and modernization.

Before voting to approve the budget, Councilwoman Robin Kniech praised what she called a “record investment” in housing and homelessness. She highlighted how a large portion of the funding for people experiencing homelessness will go towards non-congregate shelters where people have their own rooms, and towards growing permanent housing.

“There’s a lot for us to be proud of here,” she said. “We also I think recognize that there’s more work to be done, we will continue to seek for opportunities.”

Like last year, CdeBaca provided the only vote against the budget. “This budget is still grossly unrepresentative of the will and demands of the people in this city,” she said. “I am tired of the status quo.”

What’s the deal with those crosswalks?

Council members get a few weeks to propose amendments to the budget, which have to pass through council and get approved by the Mayor. The only amendment to pass this year was brought by Sawyer for new Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons (RRFBs), or flashing crosswalks, in each district.

Hancock initially proposed using money already put aside for pedestrian safety initiatives for the crosswalks, but Sawyer did not want the RRFBs to come at the cost of other transportation safety projects, so she proposed an amendment allocating additional funding in the budget.

The Mayor rejected the amendment last week, because it would bring undesignated funds, reserved to protect from economic downturns, below the typical 15%. “With an uncertain economic outlook for the next year, including the possibility of a recession, it would be shortsighted and irresponsible to start the year with a drop in our reserves – of any amount – below that 15% level,” Hancock wrote in his letter rejecting the proposal.

Sawyer decreased the proposed cost for the crosswalks to bring the undesignated funds down to 14.96%. Twenty-five residents from across the city wrote to their council members asking for them to override the veto, which Council did unanimously on Monday.

“RRFBs are something that can be installed relatively quickly while we work on the more fundamental transformation of our city streets that is required to actually get to zero traffic fatalities,” wrote Kathryn Jonas to the Mayor and Councilman Kevin Flynn. “We must move beyond the cheap paint and post type projects at some point.”

Multiple council members spoke in favor of the amendment. “Many of the calls we get at the District Six office are request for safe passage for our families to and from school, and we get requests for more sidewalks, we get requests for more controlled crossings,” said Councilman Paul Kashmann.

Sawyer said she agrees with the Mayor’s point on fiscal responsibility, and that she thinks the small drop below the 15% reserve will not have a meaningful impact on the budget. “We need to build out the infrastructure our residents are asking for,” she said.

What do people think about the budget?

At a public comment period on the budget at the end of October, many residents came out to ask council for more money for people experiencing homelessness, especially for public amenities like public bathrooms and water fountains. People also spoke in opposition to police spending, one of the budget’s most expensive categories, and in favor of more money towards traffic safety and transportation infrastructure.

Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca brought 29 amendments that would have reallocated funding from the Department of Safety to a range of issues, such as food access, public hygiene resources, mental health support and more.

Like the 14 she brought last year, all of CdeBaca’s amendments failed to get enough votes from Council. During an October meeting voting down the amendments, some council members questioned the amendments’ funding sources, the practicality of the Mayor’s office implementing the programs and the necessity of some amendments when funding sources might already exist in the budget for similar programs.

In her newsletter to constituents, CdeBaca recognized that she knew the amendments would fail, but that they help bring focus to important issues. “I introduce budget amendments every year because it is essential to get these proposals on the public record,” she wrote. “If that’s what we’re doing — getting all of these proposals on the public record and starting the public conversation that leads to change — then goal accomplished.”

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