Denver Mayor Michael Hancock wants to see the city tighten its belt as it faces what he calls an “uncertain economic future.”
Hancock unveiled a $1.49 billion proposed budget Monday that would bolster the city’s efforts to improve access to affordable housing, care for homeless people, combat climate change and enhance Denver’s transportation network.
But as city revenue growth slows, Hancock has also asked Denver agencies to find areas to trim the fat.
“My 2020 budget proposal reflects our solid financial footing, protects the progress we’ve made since the great recession, and prepares us for an economic slowdown,” Hancock said during a news conference Monday morning.
Government revenues from retail and tourism continue to rise at a hearty pace, but city tax revenues have taken hits in sales related to construction, manufacturing, automobiles and medical marijuana, city officials said.
Adding to the economic doubt are President Donald Trump’s tariffs and the trade war with China, Hancock said.
“Frankly, this president and his administration are playing games with the economy. And we are the ones that are left to pick up the pieces,” the mayor said.
The city’s 2019 sales tax revenues are expected to be 1.5% lower than originally forecast.
Under Hancock’s 2020 budget, the general fund would grow just 2% over this year’s funding. That’s low compared with 2018-2019's expected increase of about 3.5%, according to this year’s revised budget, Denver CFO Brendan Hanlon said at a news briefing.
But no one is at risk of losing their job, and municipal services aren’t facing cuts, city officials said.
Some agencies have identified travel budgets that can be scaled back. Others said some vacant positions can remain unfilled, said Stephanie Adams, Denver’s budget and management director.
Highlights of Hancock’s more than 600-page proposed budget include:
• Nearly $100 million for affordable housing and resources for Denver's homeless population. More than $71 million of that sum would fund a new Department of Housing Stability. Another $2.5 million would pay for maintenance and repairs to the Salvation Army’s Crossroads homeless shelter, which the city hopes to buy.
Almost $2 million would go toward a 46-bed Solutions Center, offering temporary “crisis stabilization” and transitional housing for those who are homeless or experiencing behavioral health crises. The center is set to open in mid-2020 on the Denver Human Services campus off Federal Boulevard, said Evan Dreyer, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff.
• Nearly $120 million in multimodal transportation investments. Hancock has proposed funding to build bike lanes and fill more than 5 miles of gaps in city sidewalks, and $3 million would upgrade transit along 18th and 19th streets downtown Denver, including construction of a $1.1 million protected bike lane.
• About $40 million to help reduce the city's greenhouse gas emissions, including to create an Office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency, $2 million for composting, recycling and solid waste diversion programs and nearly $3 million to buy electric vehicles and install related infrastructure.
• $6.2 million to hire 40 police officers, 15 firefighters and nine sheriff's deputies.
“Even though we’re seeing these challenges, I believe we did the hard work of looking through our budgets, identifying ways of flexing funds into these priority areas. So that way, we continue to meet the needs of the growing city," Hancock said.
His budget proposal also maintains a General Fund reserve of about $224 million, or 15% of projected expenditures, to protect the city’s credit rating and provide a “cushion” in case of economic downturn, Hancock said.
The Denver City Council will start budget hearings next week. It’s set to adopt a final budget in November.