Let the debate over Albuquerque’s $1.4 billion budget begin.
Mayor Tim Keller on Friday released his plan for fiscal year 2024, triggering the start of the City Council’s review and rewriting process.
The council has three public meetings on the budget scheduled — April 27, May 4 and May 11 — prior to its expected final approval on May 15.
Here are some key takeaways from Keller’s proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1:
Reining it in
After years of significant growth, Keller is presenting a slightly smaller budget for 2024. Total citywide spending would decline by $53.6 million to a total of $1.37 billion.
The general fund allocations — which support police, firefighting, parks, libraries and most basic city functions — would fall 3.4% to $827.1 million.
The mayor’s plan reflects departmental trims, including savings from long-unfilled jobs.
“We sanded off the persistent … unfilled vacancies,” Keller said in a recent meeting with Journal editors and reporters.
Farewell, extra federal funds
There is no more banking on federal infusions. Between spring of 2020 and spring of 2022, the city received about $259 million in pandemic relief and recovery money from the federal government. That propped up the city budget and enabled a surge in nonrecurring expenditures — costs the city took on one year at a time rather than building into the ongoing annual budget.
The 2023 budget incorporated $96 million in such nonrecurring expenses, but Keller’s 2024 vision includes $48.8 million.
“We’ve been living off the COVID one-time funding for the last couple of years to really balance our budget, and that’s pretty much all done,” Keller said.
This year’s nonrecurring budget includes $14 million in rental assistance vouchers and $3 million to subsidize zero-fare bus service. It also includes $3.4 million in Parks and Recreation efforts, including $766,000 for “urban forestry,” $500,000 for park rangers and $350,000 to host this summer’s USA Cycling Masters national championships.
The city expects revenue growth to slow. The 2023 budget was built around 5.7% growth — and returns have come in even higher — but Keller’s administration is budgeting based on 2.4% revenue growth in the coming fiscal year.
Expecting fewer new cops
The Albuquerque Police Department’s allocation assumes 1,000 officers — 100 fewer than typically budgeted. That’s because APD has consistently failed to fill all of its officer slots, leading to increasing City Council questioning about where the salary savings go. The department today has 856 sworn officers. Though Keller once aimed to have 1,200 officers by this point in his tenure, his budget plan would cover 1,000 this year and rely on federal funding for another 40. Should APD’s staffing somehow outgrow that budget, city Chief Financial Officer Sanjay Bhakta said the city would find money to pay for more.
But APD still gets the biggest piece of the pie
While the plan pays for 100 fewer police officers, APD — which has increasingly turned to civilian staff for certain tasks — would still see its general fund spending rise by about 1%. APD would remain by far the city’s biggest departmental expenditure, accounting for $257 million, or 31% of the general fund. Albuquerque Fire Rescue is a distant second at 13.9% of the budget. Family and Community Services, which oversees community centers, homelessness initiatives and more, is next at 9.9% of the general fund.
Community safety team goes 24/7
The fledgling Albuquerque Community Safety department would continue expanding. Its general-fund allocation would increase by 46% to $17 million. The department provides a non-police response to 911 calls associated with homelessness, intoxication and mental health. The department responded to 11,231 calls for service from July through December, according to the budget, diverting 7,532 from police intervention. Keller’s proposed budget increase would enable 24/7 operations.
The budget includes a 2% pay bump for city employees, though one subset — police cadets — is in line for considerably more. Keller’s proposal would raise cadet pay by nearly 40% to $60,000.
And equalizing pay
On the topic of pay, the budget includes $16.9 million in salary increases to close gender pay gaps inside city government. That affects about 900 positions and comes just months after the city agreed to pay $17 million to settle a years-old collective action lawsuit alleging it paid women more than men for doing the same jobs.
No tax hike
There is no proposed tax increase in the budget. Nor is the administration proposing — as it did last year — to raise the price of coffee at its senior centers, a plan that was eventually scrapped. However, the budget would boost parking fees at the Albuquerque International Sunport structure by $1. That’s expected to generate an additional $1.6 million annually.
Still adding city jobs
The number of budgeted city jobs continues to increase in Keller’s proposal, which calls for 7,014 employees. That’s up 1.5% from the current budget and 16% from five years ago. The current hike includes 33 more positions at APD and 18 in Solid Waste. The city, however, continues to wrestle with a high vacancy rate.