With a citywide budget of $1.49 billion in 2022, Denver City Council is responsible for deciding how to allocate resources for a major U.S. city. The council meets each year to discuss budget priorities and bring a proposal to the mayor. Following a budget retreat in May, they released a set of six budget priorities, establishing what areas of city management are likely to receive the most attention in 2023. It helps city agencies prepare for the 2023 budget in advance and shows residents the direction Denver is headed in for the following year.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock will meet with the council to discuss his budget proposal by September 15, with a final approval from City Council by November 8. This year’s budget priorities include major resident concerns such as affordable housing, public safety and accessible transportation.
Improving Community Engagement
This budget priority centers on funding services to support residents who are navigating city services and resources, with an emphasis on language access. City Council proposed funding a new Office of Community Engagement to facilitate community engagement, translation services and Citizens Academy.
Other notable areas include allocating funding for community engagement in the Department of Housing Stability, funding software to manage constituent services for City Council and increasing community engagement funding for City Council District Offices.
Homelessness and Affordable Housing
Denver’s housing crisis only continues to worsen, prompting a need for more attention and resources from the city. The city continues to express a mixed response to the growing homeless population. In 2021, the Office of Housing Stability released a five-year plan to help unhoused people safely transition into stable housing and double down on homelessness prevention through increasing affordable housing. Yet, in recent years, Mayor Hancock implemented a regular strategy of police sweeps across homeless encampments, causing displacement, trauma and risk of injury to Denver’s most vulnerable community.
As outlined, the budget priority seems to take a more trauma-informed response into account. It considers near and long-term solutions for unhoused residents and homelessness prevention. Included in the primary considerations is funding for support services for the unhoused population, such as Safe Outdoor Spaces, Safe Parking, Tiny Homes, mental health treatment anad employment training programs.
Another notable focus surrounds legal assistance funding for Right to Counsel for unhoused individuals.
Reframing Public Safety
After years of rising tension between Denver residents and city officials over how the city responds to people in crisis and racializes their police presence, the City Council wants to change how city government views public safety. Specifically, they are looking to transition from depending on the Denver Police Department to a “public health, evidence-based, and antiracist context with community investment to ensure healthy neighborhoods,” as written in the proposal.
Primary recipients of funding include health, wellness and addiction services. The proposal outlines more funding for Denver’s successful Support Team Assistance Response (STAR) Program, which provides tramau-informed care to residents in crisis without a police response. Funding for youth programs is also prioritized, such as violence prevention.
Support For Local Businesses
As a means of combatting the consequences of gentrification for local business owners, City Council chose to prioritize providing resources and programs to ensure economic opportunity for local business owners, both present and future. In addition, the council looks to expand employment opportunities and provide job security for essential workers.
Primary funding considerations include small business assistance, resources for pop-up businesses, funding for creative districts, providing stipends for construction training and creating premium pay for non-city essential workers.
A notable priority includes funding young adult employment in Denver nonprofits for short-term placement and creating a dedicated shared space for nonprofits.
As heat waves, unpredictable weather and poor air quality become more common in Denver, residents everywhere are feeling the impact. Still, lower-income, BIPOC neighborhoods and the unhoused population face disproportionately harsh health implications from such harsh climate conditions.
The climate resilience budget priority is designed to respond to the changing climate by protecting residents and encouraging eco-friendly behavior. City Council is looking to expand its tree canopy program and funding for median maintenance. They are also ushering in a focus on financial incentives for sustainable choices, including swapping bluegrass lawns for xeriscape, funding EV charging stations and continuing the ever-popular e-bike rebate program.
Denver’s public transportation system lacks a shining reputation. Residents express frustrations with the friction involved in moving between neighborhoods: a lack of convenient routes, long ride times, frequent transfers and buses that run on an infrequent schedule. Additionally, residents who commute by bike or foot experience hazards across the city, including a lack of safe bike lanes and connected sidewalks. The city’s transportation system has been in need of a boost for a while; the budget line items serve as a start to making RTD a smooth and desirable experience for residents.
Initiatives prioritized for funding include sidewalk creation and repair, bike lanes and Safe Routes to School infrastructure for K-12 students. Also included is funding dedicated to implementing Denver’s transit plan through encouraging accessible alternatives to cars.