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Council Considers Police Incentives

SANTA FE, N.M. — City officials are revamping a plan to make living within or near Santa Fe more financially attractive to local police officers.

The resolution’s latest iteration would give officers living in the city or within 15 miles of city limits an extra $350 a month. That would give local officers an extra $4,200 at an estimated annual cost of about $373,800 to the city budget.

During budget hearings Monday, councilors considered other options, including paying officers an extra $300 or $400 a month, at a total annual cost of $320,400 and $427,200, respectively.

Under a previous proposal, officers living within the “corporate limits” of Santa Fe would have gotten a 15 percent pay bump. The average rookie police officer, who earns about $38,958 annually, would have received an extra $5,843 or so a year.

Currently, about 44 of the city’s 150-odd police officers live within Santa Fe city limits, according to statistics compiled by the Police Department. Another 44 or so live outside the city but within 15 miles of its boundaries, while around 57 live outside the 15 mile radius. The department is still trying to account for a handful of officers.

Total commuting costs for the latter 57 officers is about $160,868, according to Police Department officials. The largest individual expenses are the Las Vegas-based officers, who rack up around $4,338 a year each in commuting costs.

Councilor Rebecca Wurzburger noted the economic and social benefits of having more city workers living in Santa Fe.

“I would say let’s try it. Let’s see if we can get 10 people” to move back to Santa Fe, she said. “It’s not just the money. It’s also the social fabric.”

Police union president Adam Gallegos told councilors he wasn’t sure if the incentive would lure officers back to live in Santa Fe, but said it might keep new hires in town.

The resolution would also scale back the vehicle take-home policy, which allows officers to commute up to 60 miles each way between work and home using their patrol cars and city-paid fuel.

Under the new proposal, new officers would be able to commute, on the city’s dime, a maximum of 15 miles from city limits. Current officers could be grandfathered in under the old policy.

Police Chief Ray Rael told the city’s Public Works Committee last week the 15 percent pay incentive originally proposed could create morale problems and worsen the department’s salary compaction issues.

Rael still appeared cautious on Monday. When asked, he admitted that Santa Fe’s take-home vehicle policy has probably been one of its most effective recruiting tools. He also said he hoped the resolution’s new policies won’t cause the city to lose officers.

Councilor Bill Dimas said when the take-home policy was implemented in the 1980s, most police officers lived in Santa Fe and the idea was to have a more visible police presence in local neighborhoods and around town.

“I think it’s time to get back to the intent of the program. It’s going to take some time to do it, but it can be done,” he said.

The Finance Committee didn’t take formal action on the resolution.

If the resolution is approved by the City Council, its provisions wouldn’t automatically become city policy. Rather, they would be put into the budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, and city managers would negotiate details with the police union.

City officials are also considering a separate proposal that would increase police cadet pay by a few dollars an hour to the level of a new police officer.

In other Finance Committee news, councilors agreed to a plan to raise the rates residents pay for trash pickup and other services provided by the Environmental Services Division.

Councilors approved a staff recommendation to implement 3.4 percent increases in each of the next four years.