Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Michael Hancock takes cabinet to community for a preview of tonight's de-Brucing briefing

Mayor Michael Hancock held his second "Cabinet in the Community" town-hall meeting Saturday morning at the transformed Rude Recreation Center in west Denver -- a physical manifestation of his campaign promise to "reconnect people to their government." Even if there were more government representatives than there were community people at this particular event.

A cooled-down summer Saturday is tough competition, but the few dozen citizens who attended definitely appreciated the turn-out of city officials that Hancock had brought to the Rude gym, including Manager of Safety Alex Martinez, Denver Police Chief Robert White, Chief of Staff Janice Sinden, Manager of Public Works Jose Cornejo and other cabinet heads and/or deputies, as well as a number of Denver City Council members.

Aside from presentations on developments at Sun Valley -- among the poorest parts of town, and one where the city is pouring in time and attention -- much of the focus was on the city's financial state, including a proposal to create a sustainable financial future by "de-Brucing" Denver's local revenue stream. Denver Treasurer Cary Kennedy, the leader of Hancock's economic "dream team," provided this overview, describing four years -- and $450 million -- in budget cuts that have resulted in no police/firefighter recruit classes for the past four years, library hours that have been cut from an average of 48 per week to 32, and over 400 positions eliminated from city government -- about 7 percent of the workforce.

In 2011, then-mayor Bill Vidal appointed a 25-member task force to look at financial fixes; on January 29 it presented its recommendations to the recently elected Hancock. The city is looking at a $94 million shortball in the 2013 budget, and Hancock is considering ways to deal with that, including $55 million in additional cost savings and efficiency measures. But that's just part of the plan: Hancock and Denver City Council members are also considering a November ballot measure that would allow Denver to retain tax revenue it has collected but would have to be returned under Tabor, the state's twenty-year-old Taxpayer Bill of Rights amendment. Already, 85 percent of the cities and counties of Colorado have voted to "de-Bruce" themselves from the mandated formula, while still keeping Tabor's provision that citizens vote on any tax rate change. Denver voted on, and passed, a similar measure in 2005 that looked ahead ten years -- but did not include any overages in property taxes.

If this measure gets on the ballot and passes, Kennedy said, $4 million would go to new classes of firefighters and police officers; another $4 million to replacing obsolete police and fire vehicles. Another $4 million would pay for replacing 300 miles of streets, and $3 million to expanding library hours. And then there's the proposal to give all Denver children free access to pools, and children in Denver Public Schools free access to rec centers, including Rude.

There's more, of course, and if you weren't at Saturday's meeting -- chances are good you weren't -- you can get another crash course in city economics tonight, when Denver City Council will hold a hearing on CB12-0566, its proposal to "de-Bruce" Denver's local revenue, at tonight's Denver City Council meeting.

The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m, on the fourth floor of the Denver City and County Building, 1437 Bannock Street. Sign up to speak during the council meeting break -- or just show up and listen. And learn.

It was twenty years ago that crusader Doug Bruce was pushing his Taxpayer Bill of Rights amendment -- and Alan Prendergast has followed him every step of the way. Read about his most recent chapter in our post "Douglas Bruce: The long, hard fall of a rogue tax crusader."

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun