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Editorial: A broken promise to APD is worse than no promise

Using what might best be described as “creative budgeting,” the City Council approved a fiscal year 2018 budget Monday that could force the city to renege on its promise to continue paying stipends to police officers based on their length of service with APD.

Since July 2016, APD officers with eight or more years of service have received longevity stipends in addition to their regular pay, based on an agreement the city negotiated with the police union. The stipends are designed to retain officers as the city struggles to hire an additional 150 police officers. That agreement ends June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.

The city had already earmarked $2.4 million for the stipends next fiscal year; the council added an additional $1.6 million for longevity pay along with $3.2 million to cover a 3 percent pay raise for firefighters and others and dumped the whole kit and caboodle into a reserve fund that can’t be tapped unless the city meets revenue forecasts over the next 15 months.

Considering gross receipts tax revenue, which so far has increased just 1 percent this year, would need to increase more than 12 percent this month and next just to hit the current budget’s break-even point, a bet on getting that pay and raises next year is very likely a losing one.

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City Chief Administrative Office Rob Perry maintains an “easily achievable legislative fix” can get the existing longevity program back on track, and he lauds the contingency plan for additional longevity pay, saying in a memo to APD Chief Gorden Eden, “It never does anyone good to make a promise to our officers, and come to find out, that the city does not have adequate resources to fund.”

OK, but you don’t honor and value your police officers and workforce with promises you can’t keep, and nobody should be expected to balance a household budget based on money that just might come in.

At least two councilors – Don Harris, who co-sponsored the budget plan but voted against the amendment that keeps the money in reserves unless budget projections are met, and Pat Davis, who sponsored the amendment – disagree with the city budget officer that the council’s legislation puts longevity pay and raises in limbo.

But the fact that there is disagreement is just a little too similar to another raise/budget brouhaha that caused years of bad feelings between city government and police officers. In 2010 the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association sued Mayor Richard Berry after he backed out of a deal signed by his predecessor to raise APD pay. Berry’s office maintained the raises were always subject to budget appropriations. The state Court of Appeals disagreed, and the city settled for $5 million in 2015.

And we would want to risk repeating that why, exactly?

There’s little disagreement that Albuquerque needs more police officers. And that pay, especially longevity pay that keeps experienced officers in uniform, is a key to achieving that. And that a still-fresh lawsuit over police pay and a scathing Department of Justice report on APD’s use of force have hurt officers’ confidence in city government and the public’s confidence in their police force.

Albuquerque and its men and women in blue need to move forward. And they can’t do that on unkept promises.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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