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Albuquerque would continue to ramp up police spending in 2022 while simultaneously investing in an entirely new public safety department under Mayor Tim Keller’s budget proposal.
Meanwhile, municipal government employees would get a 2% pay raise, the long-awaited Gateway Center homeless shelter and services hub finally would begin operations, and the city would assume total ownership of the Downtown headquarters it currently shares with Bernalillo County.
Keller’s plan would raise total city spending to $1.2 billion in the fiscal year that begins July 1, an increase of about $105 million, or 9.5%, over current levels.
“We are poised to lead Albuquerque into a year of recovery,” Keller said in a statement.
The proposal now heads to City Council, which can amend it. The council will hold public hearings April 29 and May 6 and is slated to take a final budget vote on either May 17 or May 26.
While Keller’s proposal does not account for the $114 million the city will get from the latest federal COVID-19 relief bill, previous federal stimulus dollars are playing a role. Albuquerque’s ability to boost spending next year is attributed in part to the cushion it built by using 2020 CARES Act money – instead of normal city revenues – to pay certain personnel and other costs this year and last.
Keller’s budget would use that surplus in 2022.
“One of the reasons that we are spending that money and not leaving the cushion like last year is because we know that (the American Rescue Plan relief) money is coming,” Albuquerque Chief Financial Officer Sanjay Bhakta said in a meeting with Journal editors and reporters.
Keller administration officials say they are still getting federal guidance on how exactly they can use the newest round of stimulus and should present a plan for that $114 million by the time the council holds its FY 2022 budget vote.
Under the mayor’s 2022 proposal, general fund spending – which covers most basic city services such as public safety, animal control and parks upkeep – will grow to $711 million, an increase of about $39 million, or 5.8%, from present, CARES-subsidized levels.
The Albuquerque Police Department would get about $11 million of that hike. Its budget would climb to $223 million, making up about 31% of total general fund spending.
“The people of Albuquerque have told us unequivocally that public safety continues to be a top priority,” Keller wrote in his budget memo to City Council President Cynthia Borrego. “Although we have made progress in the fight against property crime, Albuquerque has not been immune to the national trend of increased violent crime. That means we need to continue to invest in police, including working to bring the number of officers back to their historic levels.”
APD’s budget includes salaries for 1,100 officers, and grant money would cover up to 40 more, though the city has routinely failed to reach budgeted staffing levels at APD. The current year’s budget, for example, also has money for 1,100 officers, though there are presently only about 1,000.
“We expect again to meet that hiring goal (of 100 officers per year), but of course how many we net this fiscal year has to do with retirement and separations of service that we can’t fully predict,” Albuquerque Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair said. “But we think 1,140 is the right number.”
The proposed APD budget also means 11 more investigators for internal affairs and two more communications staffers, plus an extra $2 million for risk recovery.
Keller’s budget also would essentially triple expenditures for the fledgling Community Safety Department. Keller announced the department last summer as an alternative 911 responding agency with social workers, counselors and other trained professionals handling calls related to behavioral health, homelessness and public inebriation. But his proposal during the last budget cycle to launch the department with a staff largely made up of existing city security guards and parking enforcement officers hit a speed bump at City Council. Councilors questioned the “enforcement”-style staffing and whether it achieved the stated departmental goals. The council ultimately slashed Keller’s initial budget in favor of further honing the operation.
Keller is now proposing a 2022 Community Safety budget of $7.7 million with 61 total employees across a range of specialities. Nair said some with lower-level certifications will tackle calls about abandoned vehicles and syringes in public places, while others with training in social work and counseling will be available for what she called “behavioral health response.”
The 2022 budget also includes operational funding for the years-in-the-making Gateway Center. The city is buying the old Lovelace hospital on Gibson for the homeless shelter and services hub, and Keller’s administration is allocating $4 million for programming.
The current plan includes 150-175 standard shelter beds, plus a “medical respite” component that would help between 25 and 50 people who do not have homes and need some place to recover from acute illness and injury. It is unclear exactly when operations would begin, as the city still has to go through a permitting process.
Keller’s budget also incorporates a 2% cost-of-living pay raise for city employees in 2022. The city did not include an across-the-board pay increase in the current year’s budget, as the pandemic prompted officials to keep spending relatively flat.
The city relied in part on a hiring freeze to keep spending level in 2021, but Bhakta said the savings have proven even greater than expected. There are currently 665 general fund-covered jobs vacant, according to a city spokeswoman, which equals about 14% of the workforce.
The mayor also plans to use $11 million in one-time money to buy Bernalillo County out of its half of the Civic Plaza government building the entities now share and to renovate the 11-story structure.
Bernalillo County is slated to move this year to its new $66.5 million headquarters at 415 Silver SW. The county was looking to sell its stake in the government center for $5.55 million, and the city had first right of refusal.
Also in Keller’s proposed budget:
⋄ An 18.7%, or $253,000, increase for the Civilian Police Oversight Agency, including money for a new policy analyst;
⋄ $3 million to support Local Economic Development Act projects;
⋄ $2 million for city vehicles;
⋄ $1.9 million for two Southwest Albuquerque spray pads, recreational areas for water play;
⋄ $750,000 to expand a public animal spay and neuter program;
⋄ $350,000 for the Arts and Culture Department – formerly known as Cultural Services – to implement an online ticketing system for its museums and the ABQ BioPark;
⋄ $180,000 in recurring funding for Tingley Beach security guards; and
⋄ A 50-cent fee increase at city pools.