City Manager Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde has proposed a budget for 2024 that allocates slightly more money to the Housing and Human Services Department than the Boulder Police Department, perhaps for the first time in the city’s history.
The Housing and Human Services Department funds a range of city programs, including affordable housing investments, homelessness services, eviction prevention, childcare subsidies and mental health support. In recent years, the city has spent far less on such programs than it has on policing.
Some of the proposed spending for the department would be temporary. While it would receive one of the largest funding increases, the funds are unlikely to resolve the growing demand for rental assistance and affordable housing — or make up for the state’s lack of mental health and drug addiction treatment programs.
But the funding levels reveal how the Boulder City Council’s efforts to address rising homelessness and behavioral health emergencies without involving police officers are starting to come to fruition.
“In the year ahead, honoring our commitments means sustaining investments that we have already made in response to some of the biggest challenges of our time,” Rivera-Vandermyde wrote in her proposed 2024 budget message. These challenges include behavioral health, homelessness, ongoing financial stressors for vulnerable populations, the lack of affordable housing and encampments, she said.
The city manager on Thursday, Sept. 14, will present her $514.8 million recommended budget to the Boulder City Council. This marks the first chance councilmembers will have to publicly weigh in on the spending plan. Though the overall spending is lower than last year’s approved budget due to an accounting change related to bond proceeds, it represents a slight increase in terms of operating expenses.
In total, the Housing and Human Services’ budget would rise nearly 7% over what was approved in the 2023 budget, to about $44 million. Several large line items in the department’s proposed budget include:
- $6.6 million to operate and build a day services center for homeless people. The center’s opening is expected in 2024, according to a city staff memo. City officials had hoped to open the center as soon as this year.
- $2.1 million for a non-police alternative to 911 calls. The Community Assistance Response Engagement (CARE) program could launch in the coming months, according to the city manager. The team would include the equivalent of seven full-time staff, including clinicians and paramedics.
- $450,000 for the Emergency Family Assistance Association (EFAA), a nonprofit that provides emergency assistance for basic needs, to provide housing assistance. The money could be used for rental assistance to help prevent people from being evicted. The city’s eviction prevention program has experienced high demand since the start of the year. To stretch its limited money further, city officials reduced the amount of assistance it gives to households and required that tenants are further along in the eviction process before becoming eligible for assistance. The Boulder City Council has not yet raised the $75 fee on rental licenses that pays for the program, which voters approved in 2020.
- $300,000 for city housing vouchers that can be used to help cover the cost of renting an apartment. Additional money is included in the capital budget for several affordable housing projects, including the Alpine-Balsam development and Mt. Calvary project for low-income older adults.
The city manager is proposing to maintain spending on the city’s encampment removal program, known as the Safe and Managed Public Spaces program, at about $3 million.
The proposed budget for the Boulder Police Department’s is about $43.6 million, a slight increase from last year, according to city officials.
The budget includes a bump in pay for officers, largely due to a recent collective bargaining agreement with the Boulder Police Officers Association. But it does not include any additional money to implement the department’s “reimagining policing” plan. The long-range vision seeks to focus on crime prevention and spend less overall time responding to reports of crime. In order to free up officers’ time to do so, it seeks to increase sworn officer staffing levels from 191 to 206.
But the department still has 17 vacancies. And given the city’s budget constraints, City Manager Rivera-Vandermyde told councilmembers last week she wants the department to fill some of its vacancies before allocating more money for additional officers. She said the proposed investments in the city’s behavioral health co-responder program and the launch of the CARE program could reduce calls for police.
‘We are making choices in a constrained environment’
Complicating a funding increase for the Boulder Police Department, among other departments, is that all of its money comes from the General Fund. The fund remains the city’s single-largest pot of money. But it faces a particularly uncertain future.
With the creation of the Boulder Public Library District, which voters approved last year, the city will have about $13 million in additional annual revenue that it can spend on other needs.
But the city manager cautioned against considering this a windfall. For one, she said much of this money has already been allocated to several of the city council’s priorities, including the creation of a day services center for homeless people.
Moreover, the city is facing the potential loss of tax revenue from other sources.
The city’s 2024 budget projections assume voters this year will not reauthorize a .15% sales tax, which is set to expire at the end of 2024. Its renewal is subject to a November ballot measure. The tax, last approved by voters in 2003, generates $6.8 million to $7.5 million per year, according to city officials.
This tax is particularly important because the revenue flows into the city’s General Fund, the city’s largest and most flexible fund. It also pays for core city services, including 100% of the operating budgets for policing and firefighting.
Voters this November will be asked to approve a ballot measure to reauthorize the tax and restrict half of the revenue for arts and culture programs. The rest would go into the city’s General Fund. The ballot measure is the result of a compromise between councilmembers and the arts community, which had successfully petitioned to place a measure on the ballot to dedicate all of the revenue to the arts.
If the current ballot measure passes, it will leave the city’s general fund “severely limited over the next several years without a new revenue source or service reductions,” city officials said in a recent memo. If voters reject the measure this year, the city council could refer another measure to the ballot in 2024.
Separately, property tax revenues could change, too. Proposition HH, which will appear on the Colorado ballot this year, would reduce commercial and residential property tax rates. State lawmakers earlier this year referred the measure to the ballot amid rising property values.
The city’s budget writers are assuming the measure will pass, which would result in a $4 million loss in General Fund revenue, according to Mark Woulf, the city’s senior budget manager. A separate ballot measure to cap property tax rate increases could appear on the ballot in 2024. That would result in more significant revenue reductions.
“What this means is that we are making choices in a constrained environment, and we must be strategic,” the city manager’s budget message states.
A public hearing and final vote on the city manager’s proposed budget is scheduled for Oct. 19.