Citing higher costs for everything from utilities to employee benefits and the need to boost staffing in key areas, Bernalillo County management has proposed a 6.5% budget increase for the next fiscal year.
If approved, the county’s general fund spending would grow to $398.4 million for the budget year that begins July 1.
County staff outlined the rationale during a hearing before the county commission Thursday morning.
“Just like we as consumers experience (higher expenses), so does the county — fuel costs, materials, supplies, utilities, the cost of vehicles,” Deputy County Manager for Finance Shirley Ragin told Commissioners Barbara Baca, Eric Olivas and Walt Benson. (Commissioners Adriann Barboa and Steven Michael Quezada did not attend.)
The county is experiencing a 4.9% hike in what it pays for employee health insurance, she said, and salary rates are also rising. The county this year boosted pay for many jobs based on a classification and compensation study — the average was about 5-6%, Ragin said — though it is not currently planning an across-the-board increase for its workforce in FY 2024. Ragin said the county may still be able to afford a cost-of-living adjustment, but is awaiting the outcome of some bills in the state legislative session, which ends March 18, that could affect county finances.
Under the fiscal year 2024 budget proposal — which the commission is scheduled to vote on next month — jail operations remain the county’s single largest expense at $69.5 million, or about 17.4%, of the entire general fund. That’s actually a slight decrease over present MDC spending, which County Manager Julie Morgas Baca attributed to the warden’s decision to use inmates, rather than contractors, for some jail maintenance.
The Sheriff’s Office also accounts for a large share of general fund appropriations — 14% — though its proposed $56.6 million allocation is only about 1.2% more than present levels.
The county budget would expand faster in several other areas, including:
- Fire Rescue, which would increase by 12.2%, in part to add five new positions. Greg Perez, fire chief and deputy county manager, said the department has historically taken firefighters out of the field to handle administrative positions and he wants to restore “balance” by getting more positions in the field.
- Public Works Division, which would spend 9.7% more. Managing 181 buildings and over 1,500 vehicles has become increasingly expensive, with Deputy County Manager Elias Archuleta saying fuel costs are up 90%, the county’s natural gas bill has soared in recent months and the cost of new building construction is now about $800 per square foot, more than double what it was just four years ago. The county would also use some of the increase to add two jobs for cleaning and maintaining outside county facilities, including the Downtown headquarters.
- Parks and Recreation, which would see its budget expand by 26.6%. That would include 12 new positions, mostly in parks maintenance and aquatics. Deputy County Manager Enrico Gradi said the county needs extra manpower to maintain the new artificial turf fields it is building at its Mesa del Sol complex — which are slated to open this fall — and the new swimming pool at the Raymond G. Sanchez Community Center, which should be open in about a year. He said the county is suddenly seeing a surge in new facilities after a few years of delays due to the pandemic, manpower and supply shortages. “I’ve never been here when we’ve had this many projects opening up at once,” Gradi said. “We’re pretty excited, but we’re also nervous and want to make sure we’re able to staff them appropriately.”