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Mayor’s budget has 1% raises

City employees could get a 1 percent raise this summer, the first across-the-board increase since Mayor Richard Berry took office in 2009, under a $481 million operating budget the mayor proposed Friday.

The proposal also calls for filling about 160 vacant jobs in animal shelters, libraries and other city programs, a move Berry said would improve city services. Another 40 vacancies would be cut from the budget permanently.

The mayor’s “ABQ: The Plan” initiative would get $3 million.

There would be no layoffs or tax increases, but the Planning Department would impose new fees as part of its enforcement of two new ordinances — one regulating electronic signs, the other strip clubs.

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Overall, spending in the general fund would climb about 1.3 percent over current levels. It would still be less than the city spent about six years ago, before the economy crashed.

Berry’s proposal now goes to city councilors, who have until May 31 to make changes and send it back to him.

“We’ve delivered a balanced, fiscally responsible budget to City Council that really, in my opinion, returns a tremendous value to taxpayers,” Berry said in a news conference.

He praised city employees for maintaining government services amid tough economic times.

“Over the last four years, we’ve certainly faced some challenging times in the city of Albuquerque, state of New Mexico and around the country,” Berry said.

City Hall cut employees’ pay about 2.2 percent, on average, after Berry took office in late 2009. It was necessary to balance the budget as revenue fell, he said.

In more recent years, Berry has offered 1 percent increases to employees making under $50,000 a year, though union groups haven’t always accepted it. Negotiations are confidential, so it’s not clear whether the size of the raise or other provisions in the contract have held up approval in the past.

This year’s 1 percent raise would also be subject to union negotiations. The budget includes enough funding to cover the raise, but the actual terms of union contracts must be negotiated.

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Employees not covered by a union would get the raise automatically July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year. Berry said he would exclude himself from any raises.

Diego Arencón, president of the firefighters’ union, said the mayor’s proposal isn’t really a pay raise, just a partial restoration of pay that was already cut.

“We do not consider this a pay raise offer,” he said. “It is in fact a step toward the restoration of the unilateral base pay reduction of 2.5 percent (for firefighters). It’s time to reinvest in public safety. Let’s get back to the table.”

City Council President Dan Lewis said the council “will scrutinize every dollar.”

“The mayor has made a solid recommendation and has given the council a good start on what will be another very challenging budget season,” he said.

Among the highlights in Berry’s proposal:

♦ New fees would be imposed as part of enforcement of Albuquerque’s new electronic-sign ordinance and regulations for strip clubs and adult businesses.

There would be a $200-per-sign registration fee for businesses with electronic signs and $150 for the annual license. Establishments covered under the new “sexually-oriented business ordinance” would face a $1,000 registration fee and annual license fee of $2,000.

♦ Funding for after-school programs and other social services would remain at current levels.

♦ The city has kept about 200 jobs vacant to help slow spending. Berry proposes to cut 40 of those vacancies from the budget and release funding for the other 160 to help shore up basic city services.

♦ The mayor’s “ABQ: The Plan” initiative would get $3 million in one-time funding. This year’s budget provides about $2.9 million for that purpose, money that’s expected to go toward Rio Grande bosque improvements and similar quality-of-life projects.

♦ The budget is built on a projection that revenue from gross-receipts taxes will climb 1.7 percent.

♦ Spending on city swimming pools would go up $100,000 to cover the increase in the minimum wage.

♦ Many of the recommendations from the “Matrix Consulting Group” study of city operations would also be incorporated into the budget, Berry said.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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