Sep 14, 2023 - Politics

Inside Mayor Mike Johnston's first budget

Illustration of a small dollar sign magnified by a monocle.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Mayor Mike Johnston unveiled a $4 billion budget Thursday that includes millions to curb homelessness, build affordable homes, revive downtown, improve public safety and reduce pollution.

Why it matters: This is Johnston's first budget as mayor, and serves as a test of whether he is fulfilling the lofty campaign promises he made earlier this year.

The big picture: Denver's post-pandemic recovery has been strong with several years of double-digit revenue growth, but the economy has begun moderating amid high inflation and interest rates.

  • Total discretionary spending from the general fund for the next fiscal year, which starts Jan. 1, is $1.74 billion — a 3.7% increase over the previous year.
  • The growth is primarily driven by projected increases in tax revenues, city officials say.

Zoom in: Johnston's budget priorities don't stray far from his predecessor, who also allocated big spending to address homelessness, crime and downtown's post-pandemic deterioration.

Here are 11 numbers to know from the mayor's proposal:

  • $242 million: Funding drawn from a variety of sources to provide transitional housing and support services for people experiencing homelessness.
  • $100 million: A mix of city, state and federal dollars for affordable housing, including building, converting or preserving 3,000 permanently affordable units next year.
  • $58 million: Allocated toward reviving downtown, this includes completing construction on the 16th Street Mall and Convention Center; attracting local businesses to the area; and converting downtown commercial buildings to residential units.
  • $39.2 million: Federal dollars, predominantly, toward housing 1,000 more unsheltered people in hotels and micro-communities next year.
  • $20 million: Federal, state and city dollars for migrant sheltering services, which officials say will likely be needed as people from Central and South America continue to arrive from the southern U.S. border.
  • $15 million: The amount budgeted to build more bike lanes, transit-oriented projects, pedestrian crossings and traffic calming infrastructure.
  • $14.6 million: Money for rental assistance programs and free legal services for people at risk of being evicted from their homes, which Johnston says is a significant increase in support compared to past city investments.
  • $9 million: What's allocated to expand the number of staff and operating hours of the city's police alternative programs, and add a second mobile vehicle (dubbed Wellness Winnie) that offers mental and behavioral care services directly to people in need.
  • $8.2 million: The budget to recruit 167 new police officers next year to combat crime and reduce response times.
    • Flashback: In his last budget as mayor, Michael Hancock allocated $8.4 million to recruit 188 new officers in 2023.
  • $7.6 million: Investments toward an "electric future," including $2.8 million to continue Denver's popular e-bike voucher program, $2 million to transition the city's fleet to EVs, and $1.5 million for public EV charging stations at city buildings.
  • $565,000: Funding to revamp the city's permitting and zoning process for new developments, like affordable housing projects, and hire three new full-time positions.

What they're saying: "What this lays out is our first version of a strategy to deliver that dream of Denver that is a city that is vibrant, that is affordable, that is safe, and that provides housing for everyone," Johnston said at a news briefing Thursday.

What's next: The Denver City Council will hold hearings on the 770-page budget proposal over the next several weeks and propose amendments to the mayor in October.


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