City Council denies $110 million facilities plan - Albuquerque Journal

City Council denies $110 million facilities plan

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

A month after Albuquerque voters overwhelmingly rejected a $50 million soccer stadium bond, the City Council has blocked the bigger, broader spending plan that emerged from its ashes.

Following the stadium’s Nov. 2 election defeat, Councilors Brook Bassan and Klarissa Peña proposed that the city instead borrow $110 million to help build or renovate a range of public facilities around Albuquerque. Their package put money toward updating the Albuquerque Police Department academy and its Downtown headquarters, constructing a years-in-the-pipeline North Domingo Baca swimming pool, affordable housing and a Civic Plaza sun shade.

Sponsors touted the package as a way to finish some long-awaited projects that would improve residents’ quality of life, tackle ongoing public safety and homelessness challenges, and capitalize on favorable interest rates.

“We really do need to move into the 21st century as a city,” Peña said during Monday’s council meeting. “The stadium, in my opinion, would have gone a long way to really move this city forward, but, since that didn’t pass, I think this really goes a long way in terms of finishing projects that are just about to be completed, and it really addresses the concerns of the community.”

But while the bill had support from most of the city council and Mayor Tim Keller, Monday’s 5-4 council vote was not enough for passage. Since the sponsors wanted to issue the gross receipts tax revenue bonds without going to voters, they needed agreement from a council super-majority – or seven of nine members.

Only Council President Cynthia Borrego, Don Harris and Lan Sena voted with the sponsors in favor of the bill.

Councilors who voted against the proposal noted there were some worthy projects included, but they raised questions about process – some alleging the legislation was rushed to beat the Jan. 1 turnover of four council seats – and about whether it made sense to keep money tied up in facility debt instead of using it for recurring costs, such as employee raises or housing vouchers.

Councilor Isaac Benton argued that the city had alternative sources for construction dollars – including state legislative appropriations and forthcoming federal COVID-19 relief and infrastructure dollars – and that the flexible stream the city would use to pay off the proposed bonds might be better applied to operational expenses. He also expressed frustration that the bill, introduced without discussion at the Nov. 15 meeting, was sent to final vote without first going through the council’s budget committee.

“I’ve never seen anything of this magnitude being discussed without going to the (committee) and having a lengthy public discussion about how it’s being spent. This is not being done that way, so I strongly oppose it,” Benton said.

Pat Davis, Diane Gibson and Trudy Jones joined him in opposition.

The bond proposal would not have required a tax increase, but it would have consumed all the savings the city recently achieved by paying off some older bonds. Payments would run for 19 years, starting at about $5.7 million annually and increasing to $10 million, according to the city’s chief financial officer.

“I like parts of this. I certainly … will do everything I can to help Councilor Bassan get her (North Domingo Baca) swimming pool,” Jones said. “But we don’t spend every penny we have in our purse because one issue is important, so I cannot support this.”

It was apparent early in the bill’s nearly 90-minute debate that it was unlikely to get the requisite seven votes, which Bassan seemed to lament prior to the final vote.

“I think this is a very smart and brave move for Albuquerque. If we don’t pass this tonight, it will be a shame, and I hope that those watching will understand who is invested and who is not,” she said. “I hope those watching will then hold us accountable to find those cash dollars and find the ways to get those projects completed if we don’t use this funding now.”

Also on Monday: The City Council voted 6-3 to amend its public purchases ordinance to require project labor agreements on future city construction projects that cost at least $10 million and employ workers from at least three crafts.

PLAs are “collective bargaining agreements with one or more labor organizations or with their representatives” that outline such terms as wages, benefits, management rights and apprenticeship, according to the legislation.

Sponsored by Borrego, Davis and Sena, the bill also garnered support from Benton, Gibson and Peña.

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