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New city budget may eliminate police longevity pay

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

The fiscal year 2017-2018 budget the Albuquerque City Council approved this week could mean that the city will not be able to continue paying $2.4 million in longevity raises police have already been receiving.

Councilors approved a budget Monday that boosts that $2.4 million to $4 million for longevity pay for Albuquerque Police Department officers.

But an amendment to the budget, approved by a 5-4 vote, places the entire $4 million into a reserve fund with payments to officers contingent on the city meeting revenue forecasts over the next 15 months. Also contingent on revenue are a 3 percent pay raise for firefighters and other raises.

Gerald Romero, Albuquerque’s budget officer, said Tuesday the contingency amendment would prevent the city from continuing to provide longevity pay to officers if the city’s revenues remain anemic in the coming year.

“If revenues don’t pick up, (the money) stays in reserves,” Romero said. “The way I read it, it doesn’t give us much wiggle room.”

Albuquerque’s gross receipts tax revenues, which provide 64 percent of the city’s total revenue, will increase only 1 percent overall this year – well short of the 2.3 percent increase anticipated in the city’s current budget.

The city’s gross receipt tax revenue for May and June would need to grow more than 12 percent over last year to meet revenue projections for the year, Romero said.

If revenue remains below target, the $7.2 million councilors appropriated for pay raises, including the $4 million for longevity pay, must remain in reserve, Romero said.

“It can’t be appropriated,” he said. “We have to go back to the council and get them to appropriate it.”

APD officers with eight or more years of seniority began receiving longevity stipends in July 2016 under an agreement the city negotiated with the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, the officers’ bargaining unit. That contract expires at the end of June, but the mayor’s budget had rolled the $2.4 million longevity pay into next year’s budget with the intention of continuing those payments.

City councilors proposed a budget last week that boosted the $2.4 million appropriation to $4 million, aimed at providing officers with more longevity pay.

Councilors voted 8-1 Monday to approve the budget.

However, they added more than a dozen amendments, including one that made all of the $7.2 million in pay raises – including the $4 million for police longevity raises – contingent on the city making its budget projections.

Councilor Pat Davis, who sponsored the amendment, disagreed with the interpretation by Romero, the mayor’s budget officer. He said he doesn’t think the contingency will require the city to stop paying officers longevity stipends.

“No, I don’t believe so, because it has already been negotiated,” Davis said. Longevity pay “is already in the contracts, and it is already there.”

Councilor Don Harris, who co-sponsored the budget plan councilors approved Monday but voted against the contingency amendment, said he thinks the administration has the authority to continue paying longevity stipends.

The city is negotiating with the APOA now, and the administration has the authority to include more longevity pay in the police contract agreement, Harris said. Councilors also can amend the budget at any time to raise longevity stipends, he said.

Police “will continue to receive longevity pay, and if revenues are in line with projections, they will get more,” Harris said. “We want to do everything we can to keep (longevity pay) and increase them.”

APD has been facing a severe officer shortage, and longevity pay is intended to be an incentive to keep more on the force.