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Councilors OK Pay Hike and New Hires

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The Santa Fe City Council on Wednesday approved a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that includes a 2 percent pay raise for city employees.

A handful of measures intended to pump up public safety efforts, such as adding eight employees each to the police and fire departments and increasing police cadet pay by a few dollars an hour, were also part of the roughly $200 million operating budget.

Councilors engaged in relatively little discussion, having already hashed out details in meetings held during the past month or two.

Santa Fe is in relatively good financial shape this year. City officials plan to fund the pay raise and other new expenses through higher-than-expected gross receipts tax revenue, asking the water division to pay back $2 million from an old loan, and other means.

Mayor David Coss praised this year’s budget for strengthening the city’s reserves and providing workers with a much-needed pay increase.

“I think that’s going to be good for the economy, the community and the employees and their families,” Coss said of the raise.

City officials said it’s been about three years since Santa Fe’s union employees received a bump in pay and five or six years since nonunion workers got a raise. The increase will cost the city about $2.16 million next year.

Councilor Patti Bushee noted that city workers are also being asked to pay more for health insurance next year and predicted that “the pay increase is going to be absorbed by health insurance.”

“I thank our employees for being so patient and continuing to take hits,” she said.

The City Council agreed to a 2 percent pay raise – a 1 percent increase was the early front-runner in budget discussions – in part because of an earlier decision to nix a proposal that would have given police officers living in Santa Fe or within 15 miles of city limits an extra $350 a month.

Officers can now commute to and from work for up to 60 miles with take-home patrol cars at city expense. The measure was intended to encourage officers to live in town and would have also scaled back to 15 miles the distance that newly hired officers can commute in patrol cars.

The proposal was part of the fiscal year budget approved by the city’s Finance Committee earlier this month. But it was dealt a blow when firefighters and other city workers complained about not getting the same incentive to live in town.

Councilor Bill Dimas, the resolution’s sponsor, withdrew the measure, citing the animosity it was creating and the expense of including more city workers.

Bushee said Wednesday she hopes the council will continue to address the issue of getting more workers to live in Santa Fe. “I really hope we’re not done with that,” she said.

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