Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Albuquerque voters will now have a say in whether the city builds a centralized, 24/7 shelter – a big-ticket element in Mayor Tim Keller’s plan to address homelessness.
The shelter would get $14 million under a capital spending program approved by the City Council on Monday. Keller has said that would cover the first phase of the project, which has a total estimated cost of $28 million.
But that first-phase funding is contingent on voter approval during this fall’s general obligation bond election.
The Legislature recently approved $985,000 in state capital outlay funding – which still requires Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s signature – but the city has no other shelter funding set aside, according to a Keller spokeswoman.
Councilor Ken Sanchez said he hopes voters will approve the bonds – which would not raise taxes – to ensure the city could advance the project.
“We’ve got some serious challenges (with homelessness),” he said. “When I talk to the constituents from my community and throughout the district, they’re very concerned about the issue.”
The shelter is among dozens of projects included in the $128.5 million capital budget the council approved Monday. Nearly 40 percent would go toward “community” facilities, a wide-ranging category that includes the International District library ($5.5 million), Rail Yards redevelopment ($5 million) and Route 66 Visitor Center ($1 million).
Another $30 million goes toward roadwork, and $11.1 million for storm drainage – including $5.25 million that could finally bring a Marble Arno detention pond and pump station to fruition. The Marble project – meant to control flooding in and around Downtown – has been in the works for about 10 years but has never been fully funded.
Councilor Isaac Benton successfully pushed to bolster the Marble Arno allocation by $2 million as the council hashed out the capital budget details late Monday. He said millions of dollars the Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority had previously appropriated to help build the project were at risk because the city had never proceeded.
“They’re pretty much saying we’re tired of waiting,” Benton said.
Three members of the public also urged the council to pump money into the project, including John Freisinger, executive director of Innovate ABQ. He said Innovate sits on a flood plain at Broadway and Central and “I think a delay in the funding of that pump station could possibly negatively impact some of ability to attract funding to our investments.”
Although some councilors noted that upping Marble Arno funding meant pouring more money into a part of the city – Downtown – already greatly benefiting in the capital plan, most said they did not want to jeopardize AMAFCA’s financial contribution.
“This just seems like a plain good deal,” Councilor Diane Gibson said. “Let’s figure this out and get this project funded.”
Benton’s proposal passed 7-2, with only Councilors Klarissa Peña and Don Harris voting against it.
Elsewhere in the capital budget, Parks and Recreation projects get $10.8 million, with the biggest sums going to park irrigation upgrades ($2 million), a West Side Sports Complex ($1.25 million) and North Domingo Baca swimming pool ($1.2 million).
Public safety equipment and facilities would get $7.25 million.
The council’s approval of a capital project list culminates a yearlong process that included an initial version by Keller and a series of subsequent rewrites by council.
Tweaking continued until just before Monday night’s vote, though most of the councilors’ attempted last-minute revisions failed on split votes. Gibson and Trudy Jones, for instance, sought to add language to the bill that would have prohibited the city from spending any of the shelter’s $14 million until after Keller’s administration had submitted to council for approval a project plan that demonstrates how it is “the most effective option” for addressing the homeless population.
But Lawrence Rael, Keller’s chief operating officer, contended that was a “premature” and unnecessary measure, because the council would have opportunities to weigh in if the project moved forward.
Jones said councilors had worked with the administration and given up money for their own districts to put $14 million toward the shelter. She called it an “absolutely essential” project, but said she also wants more oversight.
“I see no problem with our representing the taxpayers wisely and also knowing what the money is being spent on. I have a difficult time with your explanation of why you don’t want us to know what’s going to be spent before it is spent,” she said.
The amendment failed 5-4.
Keller, addressing the council’s $128.5 million package in a statement Monday night, said he appreciated that the plan”reflects our shared priorities to address public safety, homelessness and infrastructure.”