Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
A mobile health care unit for the homeless and people in crisis.
Millions of dollars to recruit police officers and test a backlog of rape kits.
A goal to double the number of local kids in after-school and similar programs.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller on Friday unveiled his first proposed operating budget since taking office, a proposal that would grow the amount of general fund spending by 8.4 percent, from the current fiscal year, which is about $530 million to $574.8 million. The total budget, including enterprise funds, will approach $1 billion.
That increase would be larger than any budget increase the city has seen in 10 years or longer.
Keller said the new appropriations will be covered by the three-eighths cent gross receipts tax increase that goes into effect this summer, and the new money will be used to fight crime from a variety of angles, which he said is the most pressing issue facing the city.
“Public safety is by far and away the No. 1 priority in Albuquerque,” he said at a Downtown news conference. “That’s why our budget reflects this priority above all.”
Spending in the proposed budget includes:
• $12.8 million to carry out a multi-year plan for recruiting new officers. The goal is to grow the city’s police force to 1,200 in four years.
• $2.3 million for compliance with a settlement agreement reached between the city and the Department of Justice regarding police use of force.
• $1.9 million to address a backlog of more than 4,000 untested rape kits.
• $1.8 million for the Property Crime Reduction program.
In announcing the budget highlights for fiscal year 2019, Keller said addressing crime in Albuquerque can’t be accomplished without also pumping resources toward behavioral and mental health programs, drug addiction initiatives and programs for the homeless. He also said the city would be upping its resources available to children.
To that end, Keller’s budget also includes:
• $15 million in affordable housing contracts and $8.2 million in homeless services.
• $5.7 million in mental health and substance abuse contracts.
• $18.2 million for homeless and behavioral health programs, which were originally projected to be cut by about $2 million.
• A goal to double the participation in before- and after-school and summer programs for children.
Keller’s total budget is about $995 million. That is up from about $957 budgeted for this year.
The city is expecting general fund revenues to be at $582 million in the coming year, which marks about a 9.6 percent increase from the current fiscal year and more than covers his proposed operating expenses of about $574.8 million from the general fund.
Keller said the increase in expected revenue will come mostly from an increase in the local gross receipts tax rate, which goes into effect in July.
He said that while crafting the budget, city officials had to consider several challenges facing the city. Those include slow economic growth, the phaseout of “hold harmless” payments – payments local governments statewide receive in exchange for not collecting taxes on food and medicine – and the city loses about $6 million per year by not collecting taxes on internet sales.
The City Council still has to vote on the proposed budget and public hearings will be scheduled on the budget.
Crime in Albuquerque has risen more drastically since 2010 than in any of America’s 30-largest cities.
Keller’s budget plans for the police department to increase its ranks to 1,040 officers in the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1. Midway through the 2018 fiscal year, the department had 878 officers.
“The best way to support (officers) is to get them some help, get them some more officers,” said Police Chief Michael Geier.
Geier said recruiting new officers will allow experienced officers to take on investigative roles within the department, which would increase how often police solve cases.
He said that catching car thieves will be a priority. The National Insurance Crime Bureau recently ranked the greater Albuquerque area as having the highest rate of cars stolen per capita. Keller’s budget funds three additional bait cars.
“Auto-theft is a nexus to all the other crimes that are happening in our community,” Geier said. “These auto thieves are responsible for most other crimes as well.”
The proposed budget predicts how the police will fair statistically when it comes to responding to calls and solving crimes.
The police budget is also expecting that officers will solve 70 percent of the city’s homicides, which is comparable to the city’s historic average in recent years. But midway through the current fiscal year, police had solved just 46 percent of the city’s homicides. The number of homicides spiked last calendar year and into this year.
The proposed budget estimates that police will make about the same number of misdemeanor, felony and domestic violence arrests as they were on pace to make midway through the current fiscal year.
Officials are expecting the number of SWAT activations by Albuquerque to continue to increase. Keller’s budget plans for 79 activations in the next fiscal year.
In the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years, there were 44 and 59 SWAT activations, respectively.
To balance the budget, the city is planning for gross tax receipts to grow by about 2.2 percent.
That increase in gross receipts, Keller said, is more modest than prior years when the city planned for a 3 percent growth and didn’t achieve it. In an effort to improve the local economy in the future, Keller said the city would be going over all city contracts in upcoming months and see if they can swap out out-of-state vendors with local businesses.
Most of the expected growth in city revenue will come from the tax increase that the City Council approved earlier this month and Keller then signed. The tax hike by three-eighths of a cent per dollar was authorized because of the statewide reduction in “hold harmless” payments, and is expected to bring in about $50 million annually.
The city is projected to lose $2.3 million in “hold harmless” payments in the next fiscal year, and a total of $38 million over a 15-year period.
In Keller’s budget, 80 percent of the tax increase revenue will go toward public safety.
As part of that, Keller is planning an Albuquerque Fire Department mobile health care and community outreach program.
The mobile AFD unit will have a paramedic and a person on board who can do community outreach and it will respond to indigent or homeless people or people in some sort of crisis. That will free up time for police officers and firefighters to respond to more pressing calls for service.
“The economy and the public safety crisis are intertwined,” said Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair. “Economic growth can only happen in a community that has taken control of its public safety problems and provides a vibrant environment to nurture, retain and attract businesses.”
Earlier this year, the city released a “Budget Deficit Initiative Report” that outlined cost-saving measures the city could take to address a deficit. Keller said his budget, with the gross receipts tax increase, avoided those measures, which included increasing property taxes, closing a golf course or eliminating the 311 call center.
“We were able to avoid all those painful cuts,” Keller said.