Denver’s 2021 budget proposes millions in cuts, more furloughs for city employees

Denver officials proposed millions more in cuts for next year’s budget Tuesday morning, alongside even more unpaid employee furloughs and smaller investments in social services and changes to law enforcement practices.

In all, Mayor Michael Hancock’s proposed 2021 budget projects a $1.33 billion general fund, down 10.6% from the original 2020 budget, which tanked sharply in March as the coronavirus pandemic hit Denver. The nearly 800-page document now goes to City Council, which will hold budget hearings, tweak the document and adopt a final version in November.

The pandemic caused a budget shortfall this year of about $220 million, Denver’s Chief Financial Officer Brendan Hanlon said Tuesday morning, and the expected revenue gap next year is estimated at $190 million. In its first year, the economic damage was worse than that of the Great Recession in 2009, though Hanlon noted that recession continued to hit Denver for about five years and the duration of the current downturn remains unclear.

The city took a substantial hit Monday when the National Western Stock Show canceled its January 2021 event, postponing until 2022 and taking an estimated $120 million regional economic boost with it.

The current budget proposal is based on a relatively stable, or improving, pandemic outlook, Hanlon said.

“All of these numbers do not assume a resurgence in the latter part of 2020 and 2021,” Hanlon said. “If that were to happen, we would have to come back and further revise these numbers.”

While the proposal does not include layoffs, Hanlon said employees will be asked to take between six and nine unpaid furlough days to save an estimated $12 million.

Those furlough requirements will be based on income, said finance department spokesperson Julie Smith. Employees making less than $52,000 a year will take six furlough days while mayoral appointees will take nine.

Earlier this year, the city’s department heads were asked to propose 11% in budget savings for next year, many of which were accepted for the budget draft.

Off the bat, the city anticipates about $39 million in savings by keeping more than 400 vacant positions unfilled, Hanlon said. Other reductions include $14.5 million in general fund support to the capital improvement program, $9.6 million in fleet replacement, $7 million from fewer new hires for police and fire departments and a $3.2 million in reduced overtime for public safety agencies, he said.

In addition, the city expects about $7 million from technology equipment, project and licensing savings, $4.5 million from vacancies in the Sheriff’s Department and $3.2 million from keeping the jail population low, Hanlon said.

While the proposed budget is rife with cuts, there are some investments as well, he said. The administration is planning an additional $11.5 million for behavioral health and criminal justice reform. It also includes an extra $1.5 million for homeless encampment outreach, services and housing and $5 million for a new homeless shelter, among other things.

This is a developing story and will be updated. 

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