Denver city officials have proposed a 2015 budget that would pay for dozens more jail deputies, expansion of the independent monitor's office, two police recruit classes and body cameras for
Mayor Michael Hancock's plan, delivered to the City Council on Monday, provides $5.4 million for reforms within the sheriff department's $117 million proposed budget next year.
Much of that will go to hire 47 new deputies in a department that has weathered an inmate abuse scandal in recent months. The city has paid $3.25 million to settle a case by one former inmate, sparking probes including an outside review of the sheriff's department. It faces a stack of complaints from other former inmates.
By expanding deputies' ranks, city officials hope to relieve not only the thinly stretched staff but end years of excessive overtime costs.
In the first seven months of this year alone, overtime has totaled more than $4 million.
New public safety spending stands out alongside big spending of $63 million on one-time public projects and programs in the proposed $1.7 billion operating budget, which would grow 2.4 percent over this year.
The biggest chunk of the total budget, the $1.2 billion general fund that covers basic city operations, would increase by 6.6 percent. Finance officials say reserves would meet the city's target for 15 percent of general fund spending.
On the public safety front, next year's proposed budget also includes $2 million for two police recruit classes of 50 each.
That's enough, officials say, to keep up with retirements and other decreases, but it won't significantly boost Denver's officer ranks.
And $1.5 million is proposed to pivot from a pilot program and buy 800 body cameras for all police officers who interact with the public, including traffic cops and patrol officers.
Finally, Hancock agreed to Independent Monitor Nick Mitchell's request to expand his eight-person staff by adding a deputy, a statistical researcher and a staff assistant. The independent monitor provides oversight of the police and sheriff's departments.
"As we step up our attempts to really continue to be more accountable with respect to complaints and our citizens' requests" for reform, Hancock said, "we want to make sure the independent monitor has some additional tools to help."
The office estimates it will review 1,125 complaints this year, an 18 percent increase over the number of cases it handled in 2013.
"With the increase of complaints and increase of people calling from the Denver jails," Mitchell said, "we need the help to get through ... the rising number of investigations."
The Denver Post requested an interview Monday with interim Sheriff Elias Diggins, but the mayor's office declined to make him available.
Capital projects infusion
Hancock's proposal also includes the $63 million for neighborhood projects and other one-time investments, including an overhaul of Brighton Boulevard between 29th and 44th avenues.
The items include:
• $47 million for redevelopment projects in north Denver neighborhoods, including prep work for the state's reconstruction of Interstate 70. The Brighton Boulevard project will bring new sidewalks, underground utility work, repaving, two traffic lanes in each direction and potential bike lanes.
• $10 million for citywide parks projects, including replacement or rehabilitation of six playgrounds, six athletic fields, four tennis and basketball courts, and reconstruction of trails and walkways.
• $3 million for the city's affordable housing revolving loan fund.
The money, which budget director Brendan Hanlon said would be the largest infusion into capital projects since 2000, would come from extra revenue that otherwise would be saved in city reserves. Chief financial officer Cary Kennedy said the reserves still are projected to have $185.9 million at the end of 2015, or 15.3 percent of general fund spending.
The projects are possible, city finance officials say, because the economic recovery and rising sales tax receipts — particularly from restaurants and sales of cars and building materials — have made city reserves flush with cash. (The savings rate is estimated to end the year at 22 percent.)
Hancock, during a news conference Monday morning, proudly called the spending plan an "exclamation point" budget.
"This budget makes a statement about who we are as a city and where we are headed," he said. "This budget says loudly and clearly that we are creating opportunity after opportunity in neighborhood after neighborhood."
The budget includes $900,000 to open the Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales library branch presently under construction at West Colfax Avenue and Irving Street. And the Schlessman and Bear Valley library branches each will add four hours a week as the city continues restoring service cuts.
Denver's budget picture is a stark turnaround from just a couple years ago, when Hancock successfully pressed his case to voters to pass Measure 2A.
The initiative, which took root when Gov. John Hickenlooper was mayor, allowed the city to opt out of spending caps set by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. It's allowed the city to keep more tax money to restore recessionary service cuts and offer some new programs.
The council has until Nov. 10 to pass a final budget for 2015. In coming weeks, budget hearings will get underway to examine department and agency budgets.
Staff writer Noelle Phillips contributed to this report.