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Mayor offers budget compromise with police longevity pay

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Mayor Richard Berry’s administration offered a new budget proposal Friday that would eliminate much of the $4 million in longevity pay for police officers included in a plan offered earlier this week by four Albuquerque city councilors.

Berry’s new proposal would provide about $2.4 million to enhance pay for about 50 officers with 19 or more years in the department, but no longevity pay for officers with less seniority.

Councilors on Thursday proposed a budget that would provide longevity pay for all officers with eight years or more of seniority, with the largest annual stipends slated for officers with 18 or more years with the Albuquerque Police Department.

Berry’s administration sent a letter to councilors Friday offering to add $3.5 million to his April 1 budget to address some of the council’s concerns.

The new proposal would spend $529.6 million on general operations for the fiscal year that begins July 1, a city budget official estimated Friday.

Berry’s budget also proposes a 1 percent salary bump for firefighters and “several hundred thousand dollars more” to continue social and cultural programs and events, the letter said.

Councilors proposed spending $4 million for police longevity stipends, which breaks down according to years of service.

In Berry’s new budget, he proposes paying officers with 19 or more years of service a stipend of $400 per pay period, or $10,400 a year. The letter said nothing about officers with less than 19 years of service.

Berry’s two-page letter contained few specific dollar amounts.

The council’s proposed budget would spend a total of $532 million, including $7.2 million in longevity pay for officers and other spending, and $1.6 million for a 1 percent across-the-board raise for members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The council’s budget 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.

In addition, firefighters would receive a 3 percent raise by the end of the next fiscal year under the council’s plan.

“If you’re going to put more things in a budget, you have to pay for it,” Berry said Friday of the council’s proposed budget.

“We’re not in disagreement (with the council) about public safety,” he said. “We’re not in disagreement about quality-of-life issues.”

In particular, the council’s budget puts the city at risk, Berry said, by removing $3.3 million he had planned to add to the city’s risk-management fund, which pays for judgments against the city.

The council’s proposal would eliminate the increase to the risk management fund.

“We feel it risks our high bond rating and puts us, and the taxpayer, on shaky financial ground,” Berry said of the council’s proposed budget.

State Auditor Tim Keller wrote to city officials in February warning that the risk management fund had a $40 million shortfall and required an additional $6.3 million a year to remain sound.

The shortfall was the result of an estimated $63.3 million that Albuquerque has paid in legal settlements in law enforcement civil rights cases from 2010 to 2016, Keller wrote.

Councilor Don Harris, one of four who proposed their budget Thursday, responded Friday that pay for APD officers, and a resulting shortage of officers, has reached a critical point that endangers public safety.

“We have an urgent situation,” he said. “The public wants action. The public has reached a point where there is concern about public safety.”

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

Harris acknowledged that the city’s risk management fund has dwindled to about $52 million in recent years to pay for legal settlements in connection with police shootings. But Berry’s proposal to add $3.3 million to the risk management fund ignores a more urgent need to enhance police pay, he said.

“I appreciate the mayor being concerned about saving money for a rainy day,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a real issue.”