Two high-dollar items won approval Monday night from the Denver City Council: a $2 billion city operating budget for 2018 and a $1.5 billion set of contracts for a gate expansion at Denver International Airport.
In the case of the budget, which the council approved 10-3, its members have exacted several concessions from Mayor Michael Hancock in recent weeks, including the addition of more money for sidewalks, a commitment to develop a transportation demand management plan to improve the use of roadways and a firmer commitment of taxpayer money for a new legal defense fund for immigrants, including some living in the country illegally.
For some council members, though, misgivings remained — including on the administration’s approach to affordable housing programs, homeless programs and other council priorities.
The DIA contracts with four firms won approval with less disagreement and will set in motion the largest gate expansion in the airport’s 22-year history. The project will add 39 gates across all three concourses in the next four years by making use of the parallel structures’ original “telescoping” design, which allows them to expand eastward and westward at the ends.
Here is a closer look at both issues:
Boom-time budget increases spending again
Hancock proposed the budget in September, and his office says the changes made in discussion with the council will still maintain the city’s general fund reserves at just over the target of 15 percent next year.
The general fund, budgeted for $1.4 billion in spending next year, covers most day-to-day city operations. It is projected to increase 5.4 percent over this year.
Among the notable features of next year’s budget:
- It increases spending on transportation and mobility by $33 million — for more bike lanes, fixes to crumbling intersections and other projects — which is more than 40 percent over typical funding levels. It begins tackling what Hancock has proposed as a 12-year, $2 billion “Mobility Action Plan.” That includes an additional $1.5 million that Hancock has agreed to add to build more sidewalks, though that change fell $1 million short of what the council wanted in one of its budget requests.
- The city soon will roll out details of a $4 million sidewalk repair assistance fund. Denver places responsibility on property owners for their frontage, but the plan calls for subsidizing sidewalk construction or repairs in some areas of the city for households that meet low-income requirements as well as making three-year loans available to better-off property owners with crumbling sidewalks.
- The city will tap into $10 million in banked marijuana-tax proceeds to pay for $5 million in deferred transportation maintenance, $4 million in parks-and-recreation repairs and $1 million to set up a community budgeting fund.
- About $21.6 million will go toward affordable-housing subsidies and related programs.
- The budget includes $1.8 million to hire 100 police officers, offsetting retirements and providing an estimated net increase to the ranks of 22 officers. The Denver Sheriff Department will hire 32 additional deputies, including to staff the new Building 24 women’s facility at the county jail on Smith Road.
- The city will spend more than $1 million on new and expanded support services that address addiction to heroin, pain relievers and synthetic drugs that are fueling the national opioid crisis.
- City employment is projected to increase by 3.7 percent, to 12,918 permanent and temporary positions.
The council and the mayor disagreed most pointedly on how to provide money for the city’s new Immigrant Legal Defense Fund, which Hancock ordered created as part of an immigration executive order in August. The city also plans to seek outside donations.
The council last week approved two budget amendments that together direct $200,000 to the fund and make it an active budget item. Hancock’s original proposal would have budgeted half as much money and done so in a tentative way, pending recommendations from a new immigration working group.
But with one of the council amendments drawing veto-proof support from nine of 13 members, Hancock agreed to the council’s position.
Most disagreements were ironed out, but Councilwoman Robin Kniech cited a lack of transparency from the administration on potential affordable housing and tenant-rights programs as the reason for her “no” vote. Kevin Flynn voted no because of his opposition to the immigrant legal fund.
Rafael Espinoza, for his part, said the council should have sought more concessions from Hancock after some of its budget priorities weren’t reflected.
“I’m voting against this budget in the hope that in this next go-around, when the council lays out its priorities … that we follow through with some very tough decisions, and modify and shape the (2019) budget in that vein,” he said.
Hancock, in a statement Monday night, called the budget “responsible, balanced and thoughtful.”
“A city’s budget should reflect the priorities and values of its people, and I want to thank City Council members for their vote tonight to approve a spending plan that does just that,” he said. “This spending plan will improve transportation, connect more residents to economic opportunities, help make Denver more affordable for families, assist those in need and strengthen our neighborhoods.”
DIA concourses set to add 39 gates
For the DIA gates expansion, the council approved agreements worth $65 million each for Jacobs Engineering and HNTB Corp., which will perform for architectural and design work; a $655 million construction contract for a Holder-FCI joint venture; and a $700 million construction contract for a Turner-Flatiron joint venture.
The first three contracts were approved on a 12-0 vote, and the last one on an 11-0 vote.
Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore recused herself from voting on the Turner-Flatiron contract because her brother-in-law’s company, Gilmore Construction, is involved in that bid. His company also is active in the terminal project.
Espinoza abstained from both votes because he still had questions about the contract structure.
DIA also is moving forward with a previously approved $1.8 billion, 34-year public-private partnership contract for its terminal building. That project includes a $650 million renovation of the terminal.
Together, both projects — financed by airline fees and other airport income — are intended to increase the growing airport’s passenger capacity.