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Mayor’s 2022 city budget is tweaked

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

The Albuquerque City Council’s fiscal year 2022 operating budget bill has money to make bus rides free for all. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Thousands of city of Albuquerque workers would get bigger pay increases than initially proposed under a budget bill now before the City Council, thanks in part to dropping some unfilled jobs from the books.

The council’s fiscal year 2022 operating budget bill, sponsored by Klarissa Peña, also has money to make bus rides free for all and to sponsor a series of community festivals.

Peña’s proposal – which the council’s budget committee advanced Thursday – is not a drastic departure from what Mayor Tim Keller already has recommended for the fiscal year that begins July 1. It still represents about $711 million in general fund spending, but includes over $8 million in internal tweaks.

For instance, it incorporates a 3% cost-of-living pay increase for city workers, up from the 2% Keller built into his version. The council’s substitute budget would also add new jobs, including four dedicated to security at parks.

It would cover those expenses in part by eliminating 22 city government jobs that have been vacant for at least two years, including several in parks maintenance and in the Animal Welfare Department. Peña, chair of the council’s budget committee, said there has been concern among some councilors about lingering vacancies around city government and that those seemingly dormant jobs provide an opportunity to shift money elsewhere.

To fund other priorities, Peña’s bill also removed $1.7 million from the Albuquerque Police Department’s annual budget meant to repay the city’s risk management fund, which in the past spent more than anticipated to settle police-related claims. It does, however, maintain a one-time $2 million APD allocation that Keller had proposed for the same purpose.

Peña’s bill reduces the spending Keller had planned for new city vehicles, but added money to support free fares on city buses.

The city Transit Department already offers free bus rides for young children, people over 60, students under 25 and veterans.

Councilor Lan Sena, who pushed for the transit funding, said it would expand free rides to people of all ages, something she said is important with people going back to work after COVID-19 shutdowns.

“That was one of the top requests and stories I’ve heard (from people who struggle to pay current fares),” Sena said. “They were mostly riding the bus to apply for jobs.”

Peña’s budget bill also pumps about $500,000 more into community events, increasing support for longstanding celebrations like the Gathering of Nations (adding $25,000 to Keller’s proposed $40,000) and Albuquerque Pride Fest (adding $40,000 to the mayor’s proposed $10,000) while also introducing allocations for new events, like $15,000 for a “lowrider supershow” and $300,000 for some kind of Route 66 celebration.

Peña said the events are important as the city recovers from the pandemic, saying it’s “about economic development and tourism and economic vitality in our community.”

Otherwise, it did not dramatically alter Keller’s proposal, which includes $223 million for APD and $7.7 million for the new Community Safety department, which is expected to provide a new response to 911 calls related to homelessness, behavioral health and public inebriation.

The council budget committee voted 8-0 Thursday to advance Peña’s bill to the full council meeting on Monday.

A mayoral spokeswoman said his administration has no immediate concerns about the council’s pending budget proposal.

“We have not flagged any major issues, but we know there may be more changes on Monday,” spokeswoman Lorena Sanchez said in an email. “We will review the final bill after it has passed.”

The council on Monday is also slated to vote on how to allocate nearly $57 million in federal COVID-19 relief money – the first of two installments Albuquerque will get through the American Rescue Plan Act.

Keller last month sent the council his plan for the federal funds, which included hazard pay for city workers, business grants, Downtown lighting and expanding the Jack Candelaria Community Center to support youth boxing.

Peña’s attempt to amend Keller’s proposal met resistance during Thursday’s budget committee meeting. She wanted to shift more money to city vehicle purchases – essentially replacing the money her FY 2022 operating budget plan had removed – something Peña said the council had previously committed to do with federal money. It would also have increased support for city employee hazard pay.

Peña suggested paying for the changes by reducing the funding Keller had proposed to repair the Albuquerque Convention Center’s leaky roof, upgrade the city’s aging Pino Yards facility and spend on economic development incentives for businesses.

Several councilors said they would not support taking money from the convention center, which Councilor Trudy Jones classified as one of the city’s greatest assets for luring tourism dollars but a venue currently burdened by “one of the poorest roofs in our city.”

Peña did not proceed with her amendment.

The budget committee advanced Keller’s plan to the full City Council, though it remains subject to council amendment before passage.

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