The People’s Budget

By Kathryn White

Every year from mid-September to mid-November, a formal process unfolds between the City Council, the mayor and members of the public that determines how the city’s annual budget will be allocated. 

The bulk of Denver’s revenue comes from sales and use taxes, which Mayor Mike Johnston estimated in his 2024 proposed budget (released Sept. 14) will add up to approximately 57% of the city’s 2024 operating revenue. Property taxes are estimated to account for around 11%. Johnston’s proposal set the 2024 general fund budget at $1.74 billion.

The budget year ending Dec. 31, 2023, was set by former Mayor Michael Hancock and a City Council with six members no longer in office. With a new mayor and nearly half of City Council members in their first few months on the job, this year’s process was destined to be different. 

The stage was set last spring when City Council developed its budget and policy priorities for the upcoming cycle. For example one of the Council’s six priorities for 2024 was, “Increase affordable housing and support those experiencing homelessness throughout our city. Mitigate and reduce the involuntary displacement of community members.”

Council revisits its priorities after new members are sworn in over the summer. This time, for example, “funding for the city to be able to pay off outstanding medical debt for all Denver residents” was added by a vote of 11-2 under the above priority.

By summer’s end, a long letter was sent to the mayor describing all the things City Council members — new and longer-serving — would like to see in the mayor’s budget when released in draft form in September.

Once the mayor’s budget is announced, City Council and anyone with an interest in city spending is welcome to pour through the hundreds of pages of detail. This year At-Large Council Member Sarah Parady hosted community sessions to review the budget and hear from constituents about their priorities.

Denver residents attended budget workshops and hearings, signed up for public comment and held rallies on the steps of the City and County Building. They spoke out in favor of the Denver Basic Income Project, rental assistance, programs to prevent eviction, and funding for Vision Zero to reduce traffic fatalities. Groups like Together Colorado, Housekeys Action Network Denver and Denver Metro Tenants Union, among others, organized members to speak at sessions where council amendments would be considered.

Amendments were presented and voted on by City Council Oct. 30 and Nov. 6, with an eye toward how much support each amendment had garnered. 

While the mayor can veto council amendments, the City Council may override a veto with a nine-vote supermajority. 

At the time The Denver North Star went to press, three amendments had the support of both the Council and Mayor Mike Johnston. One added $550,000 to Vision Zero, a program that aims to eliminate traffic-related fatalities in Denver by 2030, bringing total funding for the program to $2.2 million. Another made it less likely the city will run out of rental assistance funds next year, as it has already this year, by bringing next year’s funding up to $29.1 million. The third amendment added $450,000 to the Safe Routes to School program, bringing its total funding to $2.7 million.

The activity of newly elected members Flor Alvidrez, Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, Shontel Lewis, Parady and Watson contributed to the record number of budget recommendations and amendments put forth by the Council.

Final budget approval occurred Nov. 13.

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