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City bonds for homeless shelter, other projects win easily

Downtown Albuquerque. (Journal file)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque is a big step closer to having a 24/7 centralized homeless shelter.

City voters Tuesday approved $14 million for the project as part of a $128.5 million general obligation bond package.

All 11 city bond measures passed by significant margins, according to unofficial results posted on the Bernalillo County Clerk’s website.

But other ballot measures were a mixed bag.

The heavily promoted Democracy Dollars measure appeared to have been narrowly defeated, while a separate public financing proposition that would boost funding for mayoral candidates and change several other rules passed, according to unofficial results.

Mayor Tim Keller has prioritized a new homeless shelter to replace the city’s existing facility, which is 20 miles from Downtown on the far West Side. It is intended to provide temporary shelter to men, women and families and also guide them toward permanent housing by connecting them to resources and services.

An estimated 5,600 Albuquerque households experienced homelessness over the course of 2018, according to the city. The shelter would have around 300 beds.

Some local homeless service providers have opposed the city’s plan because of the proposed shelter’s size. They have advocated instead for a number of smaller, scattered shelters.

And with no decision yet about its location, some greater Downtown area residents who suspect it is destined for their neighborhood have opposed the shelter.

But Albuquerque voters, who have not struck down a bond since 2011, OK’d the shelter funding as part of a $21.7 million bond measure for “senior, family, community center, homeless, and community enhancement” projects.

Some of the other projects aided by this year’s general obligation bonds include the International District Library ($5.5 million), Marble Arno detention pond/pump station ($5.3 million), Westside Boulevard widening project ($5 million), affordable housing facilities ($5 million), North Domingo Baca Park swimming pool ($1.9 million) and Westside indoor sports complex ($1.25 million).

The bonds also include funding for Albuquerque Fire Rescue vehicles and apparatus ($1.5 million) and the Albuquerque Police Department’s Southeast Area Command ($1.5 million).

“Albuquerque reaffirmed our top priorities, approving by wide margins the City bond initiatives to fight crime, address homelessness, and rebuild infrastructure. Albuquerque voters gave us another clear mandate to continue moving our city forward with investments to tackle our biggest challenges head on,” Keller said in a written statement.

Propositions

The Democracy Dollars proposition appears to have failed, with results showing about 51% of voters rejecting it.

Democracy Dollars is a public financing program that would have provided each eligible Albuquerque resident a taxpayer-backed $25 voucher to donate to the publicly financed mayoral or City Council candidate of their choice.

The candidates would have been able to accept the vouchers in addition to the block grants they get after qualifying for public financing.

Supporters say Democracy Dollars would make it easier for publicly financed candidates to keep pace with competitors who use private donations and give more voice to those who can’t afford to contribute. But critics have questioned the cost to taxpayers and the specifics of the implementation.

Only Seattle has a similar program, and Albuquerque’s proposition garnered some national attention.

A political committee formed to support Democracy Dollars reported $257,735 in in-kind contributions as of Nov. 1, much of it staff time from supporting organizations like Common Cause New Mexico, Center for Civic Policy, New Mexico Working Families Party, Equality New Mexico and OLÉ. But the Brooklyn, New York-based Center for Popular Democracy and Denver-based US PIRG were among those who provided staff time.

And Tuesday morning, Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders each tweeted support for the Albuquerque proposition.

Proposition 1, which was leading with 57% of the vote at press time, tweaks the current public financing system in multiple ways. Publicly financed candidates could collect more “seed money” and accept unlimited in-kind contributions for certain services, including legal guidance to help comply with election law. It also increases the grant for publicly financed mayoral candidates to $1.75 per registered voter from $1.

Transportation Tax

Albuquerque voters appear to have also resoundingly approved renewing the transportation tax. The one-quarter of 1% gross receipts tax goes to road infrastructure improvements, transit, trails and bikeways. It has been in place for 20 years.

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