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The Denver City Hall building is pictured on Oct. 3,2020. (Forrest Czarnecki/The Denver Gazette)

After more than a month of budget hearings and negotiations, the Denver City Council and Mayor Michael Hancock administration have settled on a budget for 2021. 

On Monday night, the council unanimously agreed to advance the budget without amendments for a final vote on Nov. 9.

The move results from a letter the mayor sent to the council Saturday, in which he agreed to fund most of their amendments, totaling just over $5 million. Those requests include nearly $3 million to expand an alternative policing program; $220,000 to reinstate transportation management association memberships; $300,000 to launch a digital inclusion program; $71,700 to add a full-time position to the Citizen Oversight Board; $50,000 to expand the Office of Aging; $1 million to increase funds for eviction legal defense and prevention; $365,000 to ensure park restrooms stay open; and $391,800 to create a rental registry program.

Not one of the budget requests pulls from the Denver Police Department, as proposed by some members of the council in response to calls to defund the police, an effort adamantly rejected by the mayor. The administration suggested drawing from sources such as contingency funds, coronavirus relief dollars, tax revenue and employee vacancies to support the council’s changes.

“I am beyond proud of the work that council has done together to ensure we continue to support our Denver residents during this challenging budget year,” Council President Stacie Gilmore said in a statement. “With the partnership of Council President Pro Tem Jamie Torres, we outlined a city council budget process early on and were able to create a collective path forward. We appreciate Mayor Hancock and his administration’s support and look forward to deploying these services to the community in 2021.” 

Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca Monday night pushed forward five amendments, together worth $25.3 million, but none of them were supported by any of the 12 other council members. Her requests included $20 million for a city master lease program to increase affordable housing; $2 million to prioritize business investment in collectives and cooperatives over single-owner entities; $2 million to further social equity development in the marijuana industry; $1 million for legal support for eviction defense; and $300,000 for mobile trash service for people experiencing unsheltered homelessness. Among the main funding sources suggested for her proposals was the Denver Police Department. 

“I don’t introduce them to be adversarial or reactionary but rather to propose real, researched solutions to problems we must address,” she wrote to council members in an email Friday evening.

Another amendment being brought forth by Councilman Chris Hinds was withdrawn before the meeting. The amendment would have increased the council's budget next year by $700,000 by drawing from reserve funds. 

“The intent would be to simplify the process, make the process more transparent (i.e., budget in 2020 is spent in 2020, not in other years), and make our budget more certain,” Hinds told Flynn in an email exchange Oct. 29. 

In Hancock's letter the next day, he warned council members that such a proposal would be tossed out immediately. 

“Other than furloughs, the City Council budget has been spared any programmatic reductions in 2021. If this action were taken by City Council it would be an affront to the sacrifices made by city employees, city agencies and the residents of Denver who are experiencing service cuts,” Hancock wrote. “I will reject any measure that uses reserve funds or requires further agency budget cuts to increase the City Council budget.”

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock in mid-September unveiled his $1.3 billion budget, which reflected a hard-hit economy that isn’t expected to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels until 2022 — at the earliest — even after a coronavirus vaccine may be already on the market. The city will face furloughs and deep cuts to close a $190 million budget gap.

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