By Eric Heinz
As Denver prepares to adopt Mayor Michael Hancock’s 2023 budget, council member Candi CdeBaca was hoping for a series of amendments supporting funding for housing, mental health, hygiene, and other issues, but all were denied.
CdeBaca said she has been a critic of the budget process since the start. Recently, she had all 29 of her budget amendments fail for lack of support during a city council meeting. The changes would have significantly cut the police budget from its general fund request of $257 million and reallocated the funding toward other needs.
The 2023 police budget is expected to be a total of $308 million, including all special funds and grants, which is a little more than the $297 million it was allocated in 2022 and $268 million in 2021.
“I think it’s very interesting that so few people are involved in shaping the budget,” CdeBaca told The G.E.S. Gazette. “Community members say over and over that they’re not involved, and then by the time folks do get involved, it’s time for budget hearings that are curated by the president of the city council, without community input.”
One of the suggested amendments was to take $15 million from the police budget and send it to the Department of Housing Stability.
“This amendment would increase funding for rental assistance, which will decrease the likelihood of receiving an eviction or losing housing,” CdeBaca wrote in her request. Another amendment she proposed would have created a regional mental health center.
“I think that’s one of the bigger pieces of the puzzle when we’re talking about public safety and addressing the homelessness issues, and it’s something we continue to just kick down the road,” she said.
Mayor Michael Hancock’s entire budget totals $3.75 billion for all operating funds, an 8.2% percent increase from 2022. The city’s main operating fund is proposed to increase to $1.66 billion, up 10.9% over the current 2022 budgeted level, according to the mayor’s office.
But CdeBaca focused her cuts directly on the police budget that is proposed to be raised far more than what it was before 2021 when protests compelled cities across the nation to reduce their police budgets and use the funding elsewhere.
“It’s just a lot of wasteful spending without a lot of oversight,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s an incomplete narrative in the public about what police do. What does it mean to solve crime or prevent crime? And how well are we doing it with the largest budget the police have ever had?”
On the process as a whole, CdeBaca said when the budget process begins in April, the city should first engage with each department’s employees in a focus group setting to put forward data-driven ideas. “I am just really hoping for a new process with a new mayor,” CdeBaca said. Hancock’s term is up in 2023. “I think that it’s very evident in the budget we’re not planning for what we need the most.”
Editor’s note: The Denver City Council adopted Mayor Michael Hancock’s proposed 2023 budget on Nov. 14.