Council-approved budget would up spending by 20% - Albuquerque Journal

Council-approved budget would up spending by 20%

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque’s operating budget is slated to grow by about 20% next year under a plan the City Council approved Monday night.

The budget includes 5% pay hikes for city workers – plus additional one-time incentives of up to $2,000 per employee – and significantly ups spending on rental support.

In total, the council approved about $857 million in general fund appropriations for the fiscal year that begins July 1, up from the present year’s $714.5 million. It’s also about $15 million higher than the fiscal year 2023 proposal Mayor Tim Keller had forwarded to the council last month.

The general fund, fueled primarily by tax dollars, covers most basic city services, such as police officers and parks maintenance. The total city budget – including departments like Aviation, that are funded by their own revenues – will total about $1.4 billion.

“With inflation and the cost of services and goods, that’s part of what I’m trying to wrap my head around and accept is that things did go up globally, so I’m not surprised our budget did too,” Council budget chairwoman Brook Bassan said in an interview following the vote.

The city can support the budget increase because its revenues also are going up.

The Keller administration estimates having over $100 million more in gross receipts tax to spend in 2023 than it budgeted for this year. GRT is the tax assessed on the sale of most goods and services and it has been coming in stronger than expected, creating a balance that can be applied in 2023.

The council approved the budget on a 7-2 vote with Dan Lewis and Renee Grout voting against it.

Neither explained their opposition during the meeting, though Lewis said in an interview that he could not support appropriating $100 million in additional revenues. Aside from a $250,000 council sponsorship of Planned Parenthood, he did not provide specific examples of departments or programs getting too much money in the approved budget.

“I just disagree with the entire budget,” he said. “I think it could have been done a lot better.”

Bassan said her priorities included a bigger cost-of-living bump – Keller had proposed 2% – and affordable housing. The council approved about $20 million for rental vouchers, about $15 million of it built into the budget on a recurring basis. That’s something Council President Isaac Benton said is much needed.

“That ($15 million) has been the number many providers say would be a good ground floor,” he said.

But while the council expanded certain areas, it did not dramatically overhaul Keller’s initial proposal.

Just as in Keller’s proposal, the largest allocation in the council-approved budget goes to the Albuquerque Police Department, which will get about $255 million, accounting for about 30% of all general fund spending. That includes money for 1,100 officers, though officials already have acknowledged the department – with just 875 officers today – will likely not meet that staffing level and the personnel funds will help cover other operating costs.

The new Albuquerque Community Safety department – which responds to certain 911 calls with social workers and other trained professionals – was poised to double its staffing and budget to about $15.5 million in 2023 under Keller’s initial proposal. However, partly at the administration’s behest, the council decided to fund the new jobs for only part of next year under the assumption they would not all be filled as of July 1.

Though the council last week had a budget proposal that would cut certain jobs throughout city government – including some security and Parks and Recreation Department jobs that had gone unfilled for nearly two years – it restored many of those positions Monday night at the Keller administration’s request.

Bassan, who included the position eliminations in her initial budget bill, said she understands hiring is a challenge nationwide now but hoped the city would start making progress on filling the vacancies.

“If we follow through on spending the money how we’re promising and actually hire people to find the staffing and not have vacancies, I think that’s a big thing,” she said.

The council’s budget now heads to Keller’s desk.

“We appreciate Chairwoman Bassan and City Council’s work with our budget staff over the past weeks,” Albuquerque Chief Financial Officer Sanjay Bhakta said in a written statement. “Our administration will carefully review and analyze the impact of the amendments made tonight.”

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