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Police wage boost sought in city budget

City Councilors Clarissa Pe–a, Don Harris and Ken Sanchez held a press conference to announce a proposed Committee Substitute for the City of Albuquerque’s operating budget for fiscal Year 2018. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Veteran police officers would see a significant boost in their paychecks under a budget proposal put forth by four Albuquerque city Councilors and approved by the City Council’s budget committee on Thursday.

The Council’s bipartisan budget sets aside $4 million for longevity pay for police in an effort to retain Albuquerque’s most experienced officers, another $6.2 million in spending increases for other public safety priorities and $1.6 million for across-the-board 1 percent raises for members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Under the proposal, firefighters would receive a 3 percent raise by the end of next fiscal year.

The Council budget also includes an additional $933,000 in funding for cultural, senior affairs and parks programs, an extra $202,000 for economic development programs and $158,000 more for social service and community programs.

The Council covers those additional allocations in large part by lowering the city’s operating reserves, decreasing the amount of money the city sets aside to cover lawsuits and by instituting a four-month hiring freeze for most city departments.

The pay raises and longevity pay represent a significant change from the budget plan unveiled by Mayor Richard Berry in late March. Berry’s budget included no across-the-board pay raises, although it did set aside funding for 1 percent pay increases for those at the city making less than $30,000 a year

The Berry administration isn’t happy with the Council’s spending plan, and that could set the stage for a budget showdown.

While the longevity pay for police would have to be negotiated with the police union, the Council budget proposal recommends recurring annual stipends of $13,000 for officers who have been with the department for 18 or more years; $5,200 for those who have been with APD 15 to 17 years; $3,250 for those with 10 to 14 years in the department; and $2,600 for officers with eight or nine years at APD. Officers who have been with the department for less than eight years would not receive the stipend.

“Council, with this budget, is recognizing that there’s an urgent situation and trying to address it,” said Councilor Don Harris, one of the sponsors of the Council budget bill and the chairman of the budget committee. He said crime has become a significant problem in Albuquerque, and people are worried. APD is losing seasoned police officers to other agencies and to retirement, Harris said.

The Council proposal has drawn praise from the Albuquerque Police Officers Association.

“It is refreshing to see the Council truly invest in what the No. 1 problem facing Albuquerque is,” said Shaun Willoughby, president of the city’s police union. “Four million dollars in a longevity package is going to be a step in the right direction.” Overall, the Council budget proposes spending $524.7 million on general operations for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, which is a 0.9 percent decrease from what Berry had proposed and a 0.3 percent decrease from the current year’s budget. The $524.7 million figure, however, doesn’t include the proposed $7.2 million in longevity pay for police and the proposed raises for other employees. That money will remain in reserves until negotiations with the unions have been completed.

The City Council will vote on the spending package Monday evening. If the Council approves the budget, it will go to Berry for consideration.

“The Berry administration sent the City Council a balanced and common sense budget in April,” mayoral spokeswoman Rhiannon Samuel said in an emailed statement. “While we will always compromise with the Council to craft a final budget that provides for improved quality of life, public safety, taxpayer value and sustainability, our first glance at this draft Council proposal appears to include some items of concern.”

Samuel said the Council’s budget isn’t structurally balanced as proposed, although Harris said an amendment would be put forth on Monday to fix that.

The Berry administration is also questioning the decision to wipe out $3.3 million that it proposed for the risk recovery fund to cover judgements against the city. State Auditor Tim Keller warned the city earlier this year about a shortfall in its risk management fund. Harris said there’s already more than $50 million in that fund, and while the shortfall is concerning, he added, it can be dealt with in future years.

The administration is also raising concerns about “raiding the additional reserves” Berry built up. The Council proposal reduces the city’s operating reserve by $1.4 million, but still leaves enough in the reserve to keep the city in compliance with what the state Department of Finance and Administration requires.

The four-month hiring freeze, meanwhile, would save the city an estimated $3 million. It wouldn’t apply to public safety personnel, animal welfare, inspectors and engineers in the Planning Department or teachers in Family & Community Services.

Other sponsors of the Council budget bill are Ken Sanchez, Brad Winter and Klarissa Peña.

Among the other highlights of the Council proposal are:

⋄  $1.2 million for 25 additional police service aides and $2.5 million for police vehicles;

⋄  $250,000 for a sexual assault case prosecutor and paralegal in the District Attorney’s Office;

⋄  $735,000 for Fire Rescue 4; $335,0000 to fund four new dispatchers in the fire alarm room; $960,000 for a 3 percent pay raise for firefighters;

⋄  $200,000 for the Safe City Strike Force;

⋄  $312,000 in non-recurring funding for the Alamosa Library, which had been targeted for closure.