Denver Government

Seven Major Takeaways From Mayor Michael Hancock's Final Proposed Budget

Hancock just submitted his final budget proposal.
Hancock just submitted his final budget proposal. Evan Semón Photography
On September 14, term-limited Mayor Michael Hancock unveiled the final proposed budget of his tenure as the city's chief executive. Denver City Council committees will begin considering the budget on September 23, with the deadline for adopting the final version in November.

While the proposed budget is a mostly dry, 781-page document, it contains some juicy items. Here are seven of them:

Budget increasing

The proposal would increase the City of Denver's general fund budget to $1.66 billion, which represents a 10.9 percent increase over the city's 2022 general fund budget of $1.49 billion. Denver's finance officials say the increase is partially tied to the city's continued economic recovery, and also to increased inflation, which raised the amount of tax revenue the city takes in while also raising the costs for the city.

"The state of our general fund is healthy, with our 2022 revenue coming in better than expected, and we’re expecting modest growth in 2023," Stephanie Adams, Denver's budget director, said during the reveal, adding that the city is not "anticipating that same kind of bump from inflation overall" that has been present in the economy throughout 2022.

Number of cops going up

Mayor Hancock wants to increase the number of officers built into the Denver Police Department budget from the current 1,596 uniformed officers to 1,639. Another $8.4 million would be used to recruit 188 new police officers.

"There are some analysts who will tell you that we need more officers just to complement our growth in population. I believe that and want to make sure that we appropriately cover our communities," Hancock said.

The budget proposal also calls for an additional $1.5 million to increase training for Denver law enforcement officers. "I want these new officers and all of our police officers to be the best-trained law enforcement in the country," Hancock said.

The move to up the number of cops could create a showdown with Denver City Council; some members may want to see the City of Denver continue to add more non-law enforcement elements that respond to crisis situations that do not involve illegal activity.

Federal relief cliff

While the general fund proposal is $1.66 billion, the city's total proposed budget for all appropriated funds, which includes earmarked tax revenue, the Denver International Airport enterprise fund, the capital improvement fund and federal pandemic relief money, among other funding mechanisms, is $3.75 billion.

Hancock's administration wants to earmark much of that federal pandemic relief money, which totals $154 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars, for housing and homelessness services. This is the last of the COVID federal relief money, as the city has already received and spent other portions of this relief.

Given that the City of Denver has to have all this money accounted for by the end of 2024, a financial cliff could be looming. The city is keeping that in mind as it uses the federal COVID relief money on large item purchases, such as motels to house people experiencing homelessness.

"These are one-time dollars and we’re going to hold strong to budgeting these dollars with one-time hits," Hancock said.

Margaret Danuser, the city's chief financial officer, added that this type of purchase "allows for use beyond the life" of the ARPA dollars.

Setting up the next mayor

Unable to run again after serving the maximum three terms, Hancock is on his way out, and a dozen people have already registered to replace him. Hancock's administration hopes that this budget, including the way in which it proposes spending one-time dollars, will help provide a seamless transition for the next mayor.

"The mayor’s thinking of setting up the next mayor, whoever that it is, for them to be able to hit the ground running when they hit the office," said Hancock spokesperson Mike Strott.

Homelessness and housing funding

The Hancock administration has proposed earmarking $254 million to support programs and services for affordable housing and resolving homelessness, an increase by tens of millions of dollars over the previous year's spending on housing and homelessness.

The budget proposal calls for investing $23.25 million in ARPA money for the acquisition of hotels that the city would use for people living in encampments so that they can transition into housing. Additionally, the proposal calls for spending $20 million on hotels for conversion into supportive housing.

"It’s something that our community cares deeply about, as well as Mayor Hancock, so we’re putting our money where our mouth is," Danuser said.

Adaptive reuse study

While the proposed budget is massive and has huge line items, some of the most intriguing elements  involve a relatively small amount of funding.

For example, as part of the city's efforts to revitalize a downtown that has struggled throughout the pandemic, the proposed budget earmarks $75,000 for an "adaptive reuse study" that would look at the feasibility of converting ten to fifteen high-rise office buildings in downtown Denver to housing.

Over the summer, the Department of Community Planning and Development hired Eugenia Di Girolamo as Denver's chief urban designer. Di Girolamo had been working in the New York City Department of Planning, where she helped NYC with exactly those types of adaptive reuse projects.

Downtown Action Team

Hancock wants to spend $270,000 on a dedicated "Downtown Action Team" that would ensure that downtown looks nice for residents and visitors alike.

"We heard a lot about making sure we’re on top of the cleanliness of downtown, especially as people come back to downtown," Adams said.

The Downtown Action Team would help the workers (recognizable by their purple shirts) that the Downtown Denver Business Improvement District already sends out to maintain the 16th Street Mall and other areas of downtown. Their duties would include removing graffiti and removing trash.

According to Hancock, the City of Denver has already been piloting this team with the Downtown Denver Partnership.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.