City and County Building after dark

The Denver City and County Building is illuminated by the setting sun on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022. The same night, Denver's City Council approved Mayor Hancock's 1.66 billion budget for 2023, after making an amendment to include $1.1 million for pedestrian signal construction. (Alex Edwards, The Denver Gazette)

The Denver City Council on Monday approved the proposal to spend $1.66 billion next year, an expenditure plan that represents a 10% hike from this year's budget and which focuses heavily on combating homelessness and crime.   

Councilmembers approved the budget after weeks of deliberations, public comment and back and forth with Mayor Michael Hancock, who balked at some of their counterproposals.  

The budget focuses on public safety, housing justice and a reinvigoration of the downtown area. 

Councilmembers, who largely supported the budget, requested an additional $17.5 million in mid-October. Hancock agreed to $7.5 million of those amendments in a compromise but denied some requests out of concern for the city's fund balance. 

The council overrode the mayor in one instance, adding $1.1 million for pedestrian crossing signals, before adopting the budget Monday night.

"I really appreciate the mayor's points, and I agree with them on 100%, but I do believe that we are being fiscally responsible," Councilmember Amanda Sawyer said. "We've got city plans for days, but our residents want implementation of those plans... This is what our residents are asking for."

Included in the $1.66 billion is $611 million for public safety, which represents a 7.64% increase over last year. Hancock and other councilmembers hope the money would curb crime rates in Denver downtown.

District 9 Councilwoman Candi Cdebaca balked at this provision. Cdebaca sought to redistribute $130 million from the $135 million for police patrol via 30 amendments, which included $40 million to invest in transitional and low-income housing and $15 million for rental assistance. 

Other councilmembers rejected CdeBaca's 30 amendments.

CdeBaca, who was the only vote against the proposed 2023 budget on Monday, criticized the budget, saying it insufficiently addressed the city's commitment to equity and workers' needs.

"This budget is still grossly unrepresentative of the will and demands of the people in this city," CdeBaca said. "We are still under-investing in many portions of our budget that would help us rise to the occasion of a shifting economy, a shifting definition of public health and safety and the growing housing crisis."

The budget includes $254 million to address Denver's homelessness challenges. Of that amount $20 million will go towards what Hancock calls "housing justice" and includes a down payment assistance program seeking to increase home ownership among families of color. 

Metro Denver is struggling to address homelessness, which jumped by 12.8% – from 6,104 to 6,888 – between January 2020 and January this year. Local authorities, including Denver, have been pouring significant resources into tackling homelessness in the last few years.  

In September, for example, the Denver Coalition for the Homeless opened a $46.5 million building that gives homeless Denverites a chance to transition from homelessness. Denver's Department of Housing Stability had invested $4.1 million in the building. 

Councilmember-at-large Robin Kniech supported the money for homelessness.

"This budget includes $254 million to address housing and homelessness. That's a record investment," she said. "It's appropriate, given the scale of the crisis in our community and given the priority that our own residents have placed on these issues."

In a report, the Common Sense Institute said local governments and nonprofits are on track to spend nearly $2 billion over a three-year period to tackle homelessness in some counties in the Denver metro area. Critics called that study "purposefully misleading."

The explosive projected growth in spending from 2021 through 2023 reflects the gravity of the challenge that the public and private sectors face as they struggle to contain homelessness in Colorado's biggest cities. Indeed, the study from the Common Sense Institute said the number of homeless people grew by double digits from 2020 to 2022 – levels unseen since 2008 for one specific population.

Denver's proposed 2023 budget includes $48.9 million in funding for homelessness resolution, a $7.9 million increase. 

Council leaders praised the work that has gone on during the budgeting process.

Some members of the public had criticized the increased police patrol budget, while others wanted to see more investments in homelessness resolution. Others lauded the focus on public safety, saying it would help revitalize key areas of the city.   

Hancock said he is hopeful the measures adopted in the final budget would set Denver up for success as the country continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"While our recovery is strong and we’re moving forward, we face economic headwinds from higher inflation and interest rates that impact costs," the mayor said in a statement. "That’s why I’m disappointed council amended the budget over my rejection. Keeping our reserve at or above 15 percent maintains our commitment to fiscal responsibility and strong financial management."

Despite his disappointment, Hancock thanked the councilmembers for their partnership through the planning process. He said he believes the approved budget would put Denver on a path toward a more equitable future.

"This, however, remains a budget the people of Denver can be proud of," he said.