Politics

Mayor Hancock proposes record spending for Denver in 2023, focus on homelessness, cops and downtown

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is proposing the city spend $1.66 billion in general fund revenue next year, a record budget for the Mile High City and a nearly 12% increase over the general fund expenses he proposed in 2022.

In the final months of his 12-year, term-limited tenure, Hancock on Wednesday zeroed in on four focus areas in his budget. Naturally, those areas figure to be key issues in the April election that will name Hancock’s successor.

“There are certain things that sit a the top of our priority list. Those issues are not going to be a surprise to anyone,” Hancock said as he summarized his budget proposal at a news conference Wednesday morning. “They include rising crime, encampments, a behavioral health crisis fueled by illegal drugs and a need to bring our downtown back to where it was two years ago.”

Here is a breakdown of some of the ways the administration intends to invest in each of those areas in 2023:

Affordable housing and homelessness

City revenue is just one source of the $254 million Hancock and his administration expect to spend on affordable housing and homelessness next year. Nearly $49 million from the voter-approved Homelessness Resolution Fund, $46.7 million from the city’s affordable fund and $77.7 million in American Resue Plan Act, or ARPA, dollars will be called down.

It’s the area where the city will invest the most financial resources compared to last year, City Budget Director Stephanie Adams said Wednesday. In his 2022 budget proposal, Hancock called for investing $190 million in housing and homelessness initiatives, including $20 million in federal dollars.

Specific spending Hancock outlined Wednesday included putting $20 million in ARPA funding toward downpayment assistance for people of color trying to buy a home in Denver’s finally cooling market.

A combined $43.25 million in ARPA funding is earmarked for buying hotel properties. Some of those would be used for short-term interventions like safe parking sites and shelter spaces that could lead to “decommissioning encampments” of people living on the streets, Hancock said. Other hotels would be acquired to be turned into long-term supportive housing with services to help ensure residents remain stable.

Mental health and other community support

This broad category also draws on Denver’s ARPA funding, including funneling $20 million to building out a more robust behavioral health provider network in the city, making services more widely available, especially for kids and young adults, city officials said Wednesday.

Some of that $20 million will also go to “bolstering the city’s substance misuse response,” according to a summary of the budget.

“While lasting solutions to homelessness are built on housing stability, the challenges of people living on the streets as well as crime have been complicated by the epidemic associated with cheap fentanyl, methamphetamines and a behavioral health crisis that continues to strain support of our network,” Hancock said.

It’s a minuscule part of a budget that, when accounting for all appropriated money is estimated to be $3.75 billion next year, but the Hancock administration also plans to invest $700,000 in a “public health hot spot” program. Relying on data, the program would concentrate mental health services in areas known to have higher rates of overdose deaths, homeless camps and violence, according to the city.

Public safety and more Denver police officers

In another broad category with numerous line items, the biggest chunk of money Hancock discussed when it comes to public safety on Wednesday is set aside for one purpose: adding 188 more cops to the Denver Police Department.

Law enforcement recruitment and retention have been ongoing problems in Denver and in cities across the county. Last year, Hancock’s proposed budget allocated $13.6 million to hire people in the city’s police, fire, and sheriff’s departments and 911 call center.

In 2023, Hancock wants to spend $8.4 million specifically on recruiting those 188 police officers. He wants to put another $1.5 million enhanced law enforcement officer training, following through on a commitment he made during his final State of the City address this summer that Denver would have the nation’s best-trained police.

The 2023 spending plan calls for growing DPD’s authorized strength from 1,596 uniformed officers to 1,639, Hancock said. The wave of hiring, should it succeed, is expected to reduce crime and shorten emergency response times, city officials said.

Hancock was asked Wednesday why he believes adding more officers will make the city safer. The Task Force to Reimagine Policing and Public Safety, a coalition of community groups that last year put out a report examining the city’s public safety methods in the wake of the 2020 protests against police brutality, recommended finding ways to reduce unnecessary interactions between police and city residents.

“There are some analysts who will tell you that we need more officers just to compliment our growing population,” Hancock said. “It’s about police being a part of the solution to crime.”

Downtown Denver recovery

The figures aren’t as eye-popping, but the Hancock administration is committed to bolstering the city’s downtown as it still struggles to get back to pre-pandemic levels of activity and contends with the impacts of the 16th Street Mall reconstruction project.

City officials Wednesday outlined two specific efforts on that front. First, the city would spend $270,000 to fund a “Downtown Action Team” to make the city’s urban core cleaner and more inviting. Another $70,000 (again coming from ARPA) is earmarked for a study looking at reuse options for underutilized office buildings downtown.

The action team would work alongside the Downtown Denver Partnership’s purple-clad service crews to clean up trash and otherwise make downtown a more comfortable place to be, city leaders said.

The re-use study would be focused on how feasible it would be to convert 10 to 15 office buildings into housing. Those types of conversion are already starting to gain popularity in the work-from-home era where weekday activity remains muted downtown.

It being Hancock’s final budget, administration officials emphasized that thanks to strong revenues in 2022, the spending proposal would also leave behind a general fund reserve of 15.1%, or more than $250 million.

By the time the next mayor of Denver is sworn in, the 2023 budget will be finalized. The city council will hold its first hearing on Hancock’s proposal on Sept. 23. A final vote is expected to be held in November.

The city is providing more information about the budget at denvergov.org/budget.

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