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Editorial: Mayor’s bond proposal, city budget are good start

More than a billion dollars.

That’s a lot of money.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s proposed 2020 budget is $1.1 billion, an 11 percent increase from this year. And while an accounting idiosyncrasy is responsible for a large chunk of that extra change, it’s still a great big pot of money with great big plans.

The meat and potatoes of Keller’s proposed budget is still public safety, with nearly half earmarked for police and fire. Family and Community Services would get a sizable funding boost, in part to extend the hours and services available at the Emergency Housing Center, and city employees across the board would get at least a 2 percent raise.

A few worrisome policies are lurking in the budget’s nooks and crannies. One is his proposal to do away with Albuquerque’s pet licensure program, which ensures a rabies vaccination from those – albeit few – who participate.

Another underwhelming change is the suggested emergency incident cost recovery fee that would allow the fire department to bill motorists’ car insurance when a crew shows up – even if it’s a minor wreck and the crew isn’t needed.

As for the aforementioned accounting idiosyncrasy: Keller’s bid to sync up the city’s fiscal year with the state government’s would result in a one-time 13-month budgetary period, and an “extra” $34.3 million – an idea somebody probably should have had a long time ago. It’s absurd that Albuquerque has to wait until the following year to apply June taxes to its budget, and Keller’s proposal to use the $34.3 million freed up by the shift for one-time expenditures makes sense. The city would have that extra month worth of income for this year only; no sense getting attached to it.

Outside the general budget process, voters would have the chance in November to vote on $128.5 million worth of capital projects, including the first phase of a new 24/7 homeless shelter, tagged at $14 million.

General obligation bond dollars – a mainstay of the city’s financing tools for capital projects – don’t involve a tax hike, and the need for centralized, 24-hour shelter has become increasingly apparent. An estimated 5,000 to 8,000 people are living on the streets, in motels and in shelters in Albuquerque.

Keller asked the state to pitch in for the desperately needed shelter. But lawmakers, despite enjoying a surplus of energy boom dollars, ponied up less than $1 million.

A $5 million line item in that capital budget is also designated for the Rail Yards redevelopment project. The Journal has historically been skeptical of pouring more funding into the money pit that is the Rail Yards site. But the city’s new partnership with Central New Mexico Community College is a game-changer. The plan to make the Rail Yards home to CNM’s production center capitalizes on New Mexico’s film industry momentum in a promising and exciting way.

Keller’s plan, overall, doesn’t raise any major concerns. But, as always, our elected councilors should comb through it thoroughly to ensure taxpayers are getting the best bang for their buck. After all, it’s a lot of money.

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.