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Albuquerque mayor vetoes budget, calling it fiscally unsound

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque mayor Richard Berry has vetoed the city budget sent to him by councilors last month, saying it wasn’t fiscally sound.

But he and two councilors have come up with a compromise $528.9 million budget that will be presented to the City Council on Monday.

Mayor Richard Berry

“The budget that came up from the City Council was well-intentioned, but it was simply a recipe to overpromise and underdeliver,” Berry told the Journal on Thursday.

It’s the first time since Berry became mayor in 2009 that he has vetoed a budget.

The city charter calls for the council to take up the veto on Monday for a possible override, but that would require six council votes. The council adopted the vetoed budget by an 8-1 vote, but it’s unclear how many councilors would vote for an override.

Berry formally notified the council of his veto in a memo to council President Isaac Benton on Thursday.

“While I appreciate the council’s hard work and desire to add more money for issues that are important to all of us, I cannot in good conscience sign (the budget) as amended,” he wrote.

Among the concerns cited by Berry are:

• The bill leaves the general fund structurally imbalanced, meaning that expected revenues aren’t in line with proposed expenditures.

• It reduces the Albuquerque Police Department’s budget by $2.4 million and reserves the funding for a “new” longevity program, leaving the administration in a precarious position with regard to continuing the existing longevity program already in place.

• The spending plan sought to appropriate $3 million in revenues the city doesn’t have to pay for one-time programs and projects. It proposed to pay for those items through savings from a proposed four-month hiring freeze.

• The bill also sought to reduce general fund reserves and the risk recovery fund, which is used to cover lawsuits.

Berry, in his veto message, referenced the budget compromise that he and Councilors Pat Davis and Brad Winter have come up with. That compromise bill will be presented to the full council for consideration on Monday, although the council likely wouldn’t vote on it until June 19.

“I believe it represents an acceptable compromise budget proposal that is structurally balanced and sustainable,” the mayor said. “It provides additional funding for public safety and other critical needs of our community while providing a modest raise for our valuable employees and continues to grow reserves in my final year as mayor.”

Among other expenses, the compromise budget includes 1.5 percent pay raises for fire union employees and 1 percent pay raises for all other city employees.

Berry said the proposal includes no tax increases, although it does propose modest increases in some user fees. A round of golf will cost $1 more and it will cost 25 cents more to swim in a city pool, the mayor said.

But not everyone is happy with the compromise.

Councilor Don Harris, who fought for the budget to include $4 million in longevity pay for veteran police officers, called the proposal “truly unfortunate.” While the budget vetoed by the mayor included $4 million in longevity pay for police officers, the compromise budget lowers that amount to $2.4 million, the same amount currently available.

“I don’t understand why we’d compromise on public safety at this stage in the city’s public safety crisis,” Harris said, pointing to the more than two dozen homicides in Albuquerque this year. He and Councilor Ken Sanchez proposed an increase in longevity pay, saying the city needs to do more to keep veteran officers on the streets.

“The thinking of the mayor and apparently some councilors is we refuse to get emergency surgery because we want to put money away for our health savings account,” Harris later added.

Davis, one of the architects of the budget compromise, said the proposed budget ensures that senior APD officers will continue to receive the longevity pay they have been receiving. The Berry administration had raised concerns that the vetoed budget placed all $4 million in longevity pay into a reserve fund, and that money would only be available if city revenue forecasts were positive.

The compromise budget “guarantees every single employee from parks workers to police a 1 percent raise,” Davis said. “It’s not much, but we can revisit it in January if there’s more money available.”

Davis said the compromise budget was designed to give the mayor and councilors part of what they asked for.

Berry said he supports the compromise budget without amendments.