Robin Kniech

Denver Councilwoman at Large Robin Kniech

This November, voters will decide whether to give the Denver City Council more power to change the city’s budget mid-year.

The measure, which was referred to the ballot in a 12-0 vote by Council on Monday night, is led by Councilwoman At Large Robin Kniech.  

Right now, “we are simply in the position of reacting,” Kniech told the finance committee last month. “We are not able to initiate. So that is what this amendment seeks to address.”

If the council had the budgeting power that Kniech is seeking, for example, it would be able to help decide how the federal coronavirus relief dollars could be spent, which is currently up to the sole discretion of Mayor Michael Hancock’s office.

As is standard in some cities across the country — such as Austin, Detroit, Philadelphia and San Francisco — Kniech wants the council to have the power to initiate appropriation of new revenue and excess revenue in the budget, as well as to authorize a transfer of an unencumbered balance.

Denver’s governing document currently does not allow the Denver City Council to initiate a spending proposal, even with super-majority support, to address a pressing city need in the middle of a fiscal year that may not have been known or possible to take up during the annual budget process. If the mayor doesn’t agree that the spending proposal is urgent or approve of the proposed approach, funds may have to wait a full year to be addressed in the next regularly scheduled budget.

The Hancock administration, including Denver’s chief financial officer Brendan Hanlon, isn’t keen on the idea.

In June, Hanlon said he remains “concerned about this proposal … mostly due to the uncertain times that we’re in right now."

More specifically, Hanlon said, he’s “most concerned” with the idea of using reserves and unspent agency funds, “because right now, those are the tools that we are using to respond to this emergency.”

Denver voters will have the opportunity to weigh in on their November 3 ballot.

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