Here’s what Denver City Council wants the new mayor to prioritize in next year’s budget

Council’s priorities have not changed much from last year, with one major exception: planning for more spending on more potential migrant arrivals.
3 min. read
Denver’s City Council chambers. Feb. 24, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Every year, the Denver Mayor sets the budget for the upcoming year. And every year, City Council tries to get through its collective priorities for Denver's neighborhoods, districts and the city at large.

With City Council's power over the budget being limited, councilmembers propose and vote through amendments, though they risk a veto from the mayor's office. Council can vote to override vetoes, but such votes are rare; last year, Council overrode a veto and pushed through just one amendment for new crosswalks.

Who exactly will be leading the budget -- Kelly Brough or Mike Johnston -- will be decided by voters next week. But after an annual budget retreat on May 12, City Council sent a letter last week to outgoing Mayor Michael Hancock about Council's priorities for the 2024 budget. Council President Jamie Torres said she plans to send the same letter to the new Mayor as well.

That letter looked pretty similar to the one sent last year, with one major exception: planning for future migrant arrivals.

Since Denver first initiated its emergency response to migrant arrivals from the U.S. Border in December, the city has spent more than $16 million. The state of Colorado has reimbursed Denver for $2.5 million, while the federal government has given Denver around $909,000.

"We realize the arrival of migrants in Denver has placed a significant strain on our city's resources," wrote Council President Jamie Torres in the letter to Hancock. "However, the council is committed to working with you to ensure that our city remains strong and resilient, and dedicated to a humane and caring response. While the City's emergency response was not planned or budgeted for in 2022 and 2023, we do expect planning for it in 2024 knowing this is not a temporary situation. We did not state it as an explicit priority or policy above, but we do expect it to be a planned expense in 2024 and one that we commit to working on with you and the Department of Finance."

In addition to the call for migrant support, Council's six stated budget priorities are very similar to the six listed last year.

But Torres said there is a shift in mindset this year. She said last year's priorities were focused on pandemic recovery, while this year's are focused on stability and growth.

Here's what council laid out:

  • Improving community engagement and customer service, including language access;
  • Increasing affordable housing, supporting people experiencing homelessness and reducing displacement;
  • Strengthening community safety and decreasing youth violence through "community-supported, data-driven, and anti-racist public health strategies";
  • "Sustain a thriving workforce, a flourishing local business sector, and a resilient network of community organizations";
  • Protecting the natural environment and combating climate change;
  • And increasing multimodal transportation connections.

Under each priority includes a long list of specific items Council wants funded to achieve its goals. Torres said that this year, Councilmembers talked about targeting long-term money for programs currently funded through temporary federal American Rescue Plan Act funding, such as eviction protection programs. Denverites can read the full letter online.

The 2024 budget will be the first from a new mayor in 12 years, but in the meantime, Council will work with Hancock's office until the official handoff on July 17.

Either Brough or Johnston will present the budget to City Council in the fall. Council will discuss, host a number of hearings and a public comment session, and have a chance to propose and vote on amendments before voting to pass the budget.

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