Updated at 12:17 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024
Services at Denver Parks and Recreation and Motor Vehicle will have reduced hours and operations as the city looks to cut back overall spending in response to its efforts to serve new immigrants in city shelters and those who may arrive in the coming months.
Mayor Mike Johnston announced the cuts Friday.
Starting March 4, DMV will stop processing vehicle registration renewals in person and will only be processed online, through mail or at kiosks. New registrations will still be processed in person. Satellite DMV locations will rotate full-week closures. The city’s central location at 2855 Tremont Place will remain open.
Starting Feb. 20, Parks and Recreation will cut rec center hours, reduce summer programming and not plant annual city flowerbeds.
The city will also pause new applications submitted after Feb. 4 for permits for public events, special occasions and tournaments.
Johnston said the cuts will not involve lay-offs, but hourly employees and seasonal contractors will see reduced hours and job opportunities. He also said more cuts will come in future weeks.
These service reductions are expected to be in effect for the rest of the 2024 budget year and Johnston said more cuts could be on the way.
A failed bill at Congress made Denver’s budget situation even more dire this week, according to Johnston.
The mayor has been sounding the alarm for months about how the city’s spending on new immigrant arrivals was not sustainable. Johnston had asked department leaders to cut their budgets weeks ago.
But now that a federal immigration bill has failed, the cuts will be larger, the mayor said.
Earlier this year, he said the effort could end up costing about 10% of the city’s general fund budget if Denver continued offering the same level of support to newcomers.
But the situation became much more pressing in January when he told department heads to identify ways to cut spending so that those dollars could be reallocated to Denver’s immigration response.
On Friday, an emotional Johnston heavily blamed the cuts on a failed U.S. Senate bill unveiled this week that was a non-starter in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. That bill would have allocated $1.4 billion to cities like Denver sheltering families, the Associated Press reported.
“This was a deeply solvable problem,” Johnston said Friday, tearing up as he described the journey of families traveling to the U.S. from Venezuela. “It was solvable with bipartisan support and we would not face these challenges. I want it to be clear to Denverites who is not responsible for this crisis that we’re in: The folks who have walked 3,000 miles to get to this city.”
If the city were to continue immigrant operations at the current level throughout 2024, it would cost the city $180 million.
The budget cuts, paired with scaling back immigrant response services, are aimed at filling that $180 million gap. But Johnston said Friday that the service cuts to the DMV and Parks and Recreation will only save about $5 million. He said the cuts will require “shared sacrifice.”
“This is what good people do in hard situations as you try to manage your way to serve all of your values. Our values are, we want to continue to be a city that does not have women and children out on the street in tents in 20-degree weather,” Johnston said. “And we also want to be a city that provides all of our constituents with the services they deserve, and the services that they expect.”
The mayor also said the city will work with Denver’s chief equity officer to ensure the cuts do not disproportionately affect certain communities or parts of the city.
However, the service cuts at rec centers present a challenge to equity-focused work, said Jason McBride, a youth violence prevention specialist with Struggle of Love, a nonprofit that works with at-risk youth.
“When you cut it even a day, it doesn’t seem that much, but that just allows kids to be places that they shouldn’t be when they probably would be at the rec center,” McBride said. “Any cuts to any resources that the kids utilize is definitely gonna be detrimental to our process and trying to keep them safe.”
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect that Denver Motor Vehicle will only process registration renewals online while new registrations will still be done in person.