Denver’s FY 2025 Budget: Decoding City Council Priorities
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Denver’s FY 2025 Budget: Decoding City Council Priorities

Brownstein Client Alert, May 22, 2024

Although the Denver City Council’s power in shaping the city’s budget is limited, it still plays a critical role in identifying and advocating for priorities for each neighborhood, district and the city as a whole.

On May 3, the councilmembers convened for their annual budget retreat, an initial step in shaping the fiscal priorities for the upcoming 2025 budget. This meeting follows a preliminary session where councilmembers convened to outline initial budgetary focus areas—a signal for their main policy priorities both as individuals and for the council at large. This year, they delineated eight key categories: community safety, community engagement, economic development, housing, climate, health, children and families, and transportation and transit. Each category includes specific subsections that further refine these broad areas and are listed later in detail.

This year’s discussions were not a huge departure from prior retreats. Last year, the council identified six categories, maintaining many of the same priorities. However, the addition of public health and children and families was deemed necessary this year to address emerging needs more effectively. Prior to the retreat, each councilmember submitted individual budget proposals, culminating in a comprehensive list of 191 specific requests spread across the eight categories.

During the retreat, the councilmembers engaged in rigorous debates, merging some requests and discarding others where consensus was lacking. This reduced the list to 79 targeted priorities. Subsequently, each councilmember was allocated 20 "points" to place on these priorities to signify their importance. After assigning their points to specific ideas, this narrowed the list to 33 critical objectives that now go to the mayor for consideration.

Below, we list the eight categories, who led the discussions for each and where the conversations ultimately landed in the council’s final priorities.


1. Community Safety

Main priority: Strengthen community safety by engaging directly with neighborhoods and ensure investment in community-supported, anti-racist, public health strategies.

Led by Councilmembers Kevin Flynn, Amanda Sawyer and Darrell Watson

For the FY 2025 budget, the council has prioritized bolstering public safety through enriched community engagement initiatives. Notably, expansions of the Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) program and the Place Network Investigation program were prioritized, capturing significant portions of councilmembers’ votes at 22% and 20%, respectively. Councilmembers Flynn, Sawyer and Watson advocated heavily for the Place Network Investigation and the STAR programs. Along with that, the establishment of the Office of Neighborhood Safety under the Office of Social Equity and Inclusion was a standout, securing 19% of the votes and underscoring the council’s person-first approach to enhancing community safety overall. All members hoped that the mayor’s goal of reducing gun violence by 25% could be achieved through the allocation of additional resources for smart policing and a shift in community interactions and relationships.

2. Community Engagement

Main priority: Empower the community and improve customer service by sharing information, engaging and collaborating with residents.

Led by Councilmembers Paul Kashmann, Diana Romero Campbell and Amanda Sandoval

The discussion on community engagement centered around its overlap with so many other categories and, as a result, ensuring the council’s goals weave participation in local government into everyday life. Efforts were dominated by the proposal to establish the Office of Community Empowerment/Engagement, which resonated strongly with councilmembers, receiving 44% of the votes—the most of any proposals. This initiative is set to reinvigorate the Registered Neighborhood Organization (RNO) program in Denver and propel community-led projects and communication. The push for expanding participatory budgeting was also significant, drawing 21% of the votes, highlighting a robust drive to involve Denver residents more directly in governmental budget processes.

3. Economic Development

Main priorities:

  • Incubate city-wide business and labor infrastructure and our network of supportive community organizations
  • Empower workers, sustain a thriving workforce, and support our small and local business sectors.

Led by Councilmembers Flor Alvidrez, Amanda Sawyer and Jamie Torres.

Councilmember Sawyer discussed the council’s concern regarding the loss of ARPA funds, which had supported a great deal of economic development over the last several years. She and Councilmember Alvidrez advocated strongly to prioritize the Business Impact Opportunity fund, while Councilmembers Torres and Romero-Campbell said that money should go to nonprofits and other community-impacting organizations. In the end, the Business Impact Opportunity fund emerged as a critical tool, with 25% of the votes. The council also plans to continue funding for DEDO's legacy businesses program and the Neighborhood Activation Grants to prevent business displacement and foster job growth, each securing notable attention with 17% and 16% of votes, respectively.

4. Housing

Main priorities:

  • Ensure the people of Denver are house by improving the housing pipeline and ensuring the diversity and stability of housing.
  • Meet the needs of those experiencing homelessness or who are vulnerable to homelessness and implement proven and innovative methods to mitigate and reduce involuntary displacement.

Led by Councilmembers Flor Alvidrez, Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, Shontel Lewis, Sarah Parady, and Diana Romero Campbell.

Discussions on the city’s increasingly fraught housing issue focused on supporting accessory-dwelling unit (ADU) construction and down payment assistance for first time homebuyers to tap into the generational wealth of home ownership, which was mainly advocated for by Councilmembers Parady, Alvidrez and Sandoval. As far as Denver’s increasing homeless population, Councilmember Lewis argued in favor of safe outdoor parking sites on public land to reduce the vulnerability faced by houseless Denverites. The proposal to increase funding for Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) construction assistance received 18% of votes. The most popular proposal in the housing category was a concierge portal for permitting that would help expedite the process for private developments building affordable units—this received 19% of the votes.

5. Climate

Main priorities:

  • Treat climate change as an emergency.
  • Protect our natural environment through action and investment.
  • Mitigate harm in areas of environmental injustice.

Led by Councilmembers Flor Alvidrez, Chris Hinds, Paul Kashmann and Shontel Lewis.

In a fascinating discussion, Councilmembers Sawyer and Watson proposed the city set aside funds to purchase the Park Hill Golf Course property. While this sparked a lively and spirited debate, the proposal ultimately only received support from two other councilmembers before it was dropped. Councilmember Hinds discussed how Denver is already ranked second in the country for climate resiliency and hoped their actions would make them first. He also brought up the idea of having a subject matter expert on staff in the Denver City Attorney’s Office to address environmental issues. This proposal received 21% of the council’s votes. Councilmembers then underscored the urgency of addressing environmental challenges by proposing expansions in green corridors to mitigate urban heat and improve connectivity, a priority that received 32% of votes. Funding for programs aimed at increasing native grass seed counts for turf replacement and other water-use reduction strategies was also significant, securing 24% of votes.

6. Health

Main priorities:

  • Increase access to resources for physical and mental health and addiction and substance use.
  • Expand investments and collaboration between providers and partners to achieve a seamless continuum of services.

Led by Councilmembers Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, Sarah Parady, and Darrell Watson.

Councilmembers Gonzales-Gutierrez, Parady and Watson all promoted increasing funding to Denver Health as the city’s primary care provider, especially for the most vulnerable in the city. Councilmember Gonzales-Gutierrez also proposed a food justice fund to support those facing food insecurity or who live in food deserts. The proposals for creating a Food Justice Fund and increasing funding for Denver Health’s medically indigent payments were popular, scoring 32% and 31% respectively.

7. Children and Families

Main priorities:

  • Invest in Denver's children, youth and families.
  • Support, educate and engage them to meet their multifaceted, multigenerational needs.

Led by Councilmembers Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, Paul Kashmann and Diana Romero-Campbell.

Proposals for expanding services for seniors and people with disabilities got 27% of votes while investing in child care solutions for migrant and working families gained 23%. The child care proposal in particular took up a lot of debate. Councilmembers Kashmann and Romero-Campbell spoke at length about the incredibly high cost of child care and presented many ideas to address this, which were amalgamated into a general fund idea. Increasing staff at the Office of Children’s affairs to address youth violence and promoting physical activity in Denver’s young people also received 22%.

8. Transit and Transportation

Main priorities:

  • Create complete and safe multimodal transportation connections.
  • Improve Denver's infrastructure.
  • Reduce traffic deaths by 25% by the end of 2025.

Led by Councilmembers Shontel Lewis, Chris Hinds and Amanda Sawyer.

Councilmembers Lewis and Sawyer spoke to the need for improved infrastructure to address both ease and safety of travel. The council then requested substantial resources towards achieving Vision Zero goals, with significant investments in multimodal safety enhancements and the expansion of Denver Connector Microtransit Programs, emphasizing a community-focused approach to transit—each receiving around 30% of votes.


The focus of this year’s recommendations was aimed more at individual impact than general policy. Many of the council’s requests are targeted at the most vulnerable populations and how the city can best support these people, representing an emerging trend on the council to target real effects. The annual budget retreat discussions also majorly indicate which issues are most important to each councilmember. As we consider future and upcoming legislation, looking at who advocated on each priority can serve as a guide on where to start discussions and whom might be supportive or a challenge.

The council will now prepare a letter outlining their priorities to send to Mayor Mike Johnston as his office prepares the 2025 budget with work starting this summer. The mayor will then present his 2025 budget to the council in September, where each department and agency in the city will have extended discussions withcouncilmembers in open meetings. The council will then vote on the approval of the budget in early October.

This document is intended to provide you with general information regarding the Denver City Council's role in the budgeting process. The contents of this document are not intended to provide specific legal advice. If you have any questions about the contents of this document or if you need legal advice as to an issue, please contact the attorneys listed or your regular Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP attorney. This communication may be considered advertising in some jurisdictions. The information in this article is accurate as of the publication date. Because the law in this area is changing rapidly, and insights are not automatically updated, continued accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

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