By City Council Member Sarah Parady
Hello, North Denver! I’m honored to serve you as one of your at-large members on City Council. Before entering elected office this year, I began my career at Colorado Legal Services, fighting to protect older Coloradans, young families and other vulnerable homeowners from foreclosure. I later cofounded a small public interest law firm focused on representing Denver workers. I’ve spent my career fighting for the constitutional, civil and workplace rights of everyday people.
That is the energy my team and I bring to our work on City Council. Over the past months, we’ve been busy getting staffed up, settling into our new office and getting up to speed on the city’s systems in order to serve you. Since September, we’ve been deep in the weeds of Denver’s city budget process.
Here’s a little look behind the curtain on the budget process: Within the city charter (basically Denver’s constitution, or main governing document), the mayor and his executive branch agencies draft a budget for the city’s spending over the next year. It’s City Council’s role to amend and then approve or reject that budget. The mayor released his budget for 2024 on Sept. 14, and following a week of agency budget hearings, City Council began our budget amendment process.
It’s important to remember that Denver’s charter requires a balanced budget, so these amendments are not additions to the total budget, nor are they requests to increase overall spending. Instead, they are proposals to shift funding from lesser priorities to higher priorities. With the help of more than a dozen community volunteers, my team and I crunched numbers and challenged assumptions to arrive at 11 proposed amendments to our city budget.
All of my proposals — from increased dollars for rental assistance to funding traffic safety improvements through Vision Zero — were aimed at alleviating poverty, preventing homelessness, and making our neighborhoods and streets safer for all residents. Based on my experience in and out of government, there’s one thing I know for sure: The more we invest in meeting everyone’s basic needs, the more we shift from destructive and costly cycles of displacement, homelessness and criminalization to virtuous circles, with benefits that ripple out through our communities, our relationships and our daily lives. When we invest in each other, we all win.
In mid-October, Mayor Johnston provided his response to City Council’s budget recommendations, and he agreed to partially fund some of our amendments. Of the proposals I submitted, he included five in his revised budget: $3 million for increased emergency rental assistance; $3 million funding to support Denver Health’s unreimbursed care for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities; $2 million for continuing support of the Denver Basic Income Project; $1 million for the next cycle of the city’s participatory budgeting pilot; and $1 million for traffic safety improvements through the Safe Routes to School, Vision Zero and speed table programs.
Even with those additions, there are several key antipoverty proposals that I’d like to see included in the city’s budget for 2024. City Council can still amend the city’s budget further by submitting them as floor amendments before we hold the final vote on the budget.
By the time you read this column, we’ll have made our final vote on the city’s budget. But as I write this column, I don’t yet know which of our floor amendments will pass (and override a potential veto from the mayor) to get included in that final budget. So for now, I remain hopeful that we’ll be able to obtain these additional funds, especially for the additional emergency rental assistance required to meet the scale of the eviction crisis facing our city. And I celebrate the wins we’ve been able to gain so far, and the trust and collaboration between council members that it’s taken to get us to this point.
And most of all, I also celebrate the hard work of community members that has been the foundation of our work throughout the budget process — from all of the volunteers who helped my team and I digest all 1,000 pages of the proposed 2024 budget to the 60-plus people who spoke up for their values at the public hearing on the budget that was held at City Council’s Oct. 23 meeting. All of your input informed my budget proposals and floor amendments. With so many important issues at stake in our city, and so many competing priorities, it’s crucial that residents make their voices heard. I can’t wait to see what else we’ll be able to accomplish together over the next four years!
Council Member Sarah Parady is one of two at-large members of City Council elected to serve the entire city and county of Denver. If you’d like to contact her, email ParadyAtLarge@denvergov.org or call 720-337-7713.