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Santa Fe County Commission approves $10.66 wage

SANTA FE – The Santa Fe County Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved a new minimum wage rate for the unincorporated parts of the county, matching the city of Santa Fe’s “living wage” that increases to $10.66 an hour on Saturday.

The county minimum wage, affecting unincorporated areas like Eldorado, Madrid, Stanley and Cerrillos as well as the outskirts of Santa Fe and Edgewood, goes into effect in 60 days.

The commission had been considering a proposal for a $10.50 per hour minimum wage but amended the measure at Tuesday’s meeting.

Commissioners said the new required pay rate isn’t really a “living wage.”

“It should be much higher,” said Commissioner Liz Stefanics, a co-sponsor of the ordinance.

“I do not believe that $10.66 is the magical number to lift individuals and families out of poverty,” she said in a statement issued after the vote. “However, the wage will assist in buying more food, medicine, shoes, clothes and it will support purchases from local businesses and put more cash into our local economy.”

Commissioner Miguel Chavez, the other sponsor, said the minimum wage hike “puts money in the pockets of people who need it most.” He said he realizes businesses are having a hard time. “I just hope they can move through it,” he said.

The state minimum wage is now $7.50 an hour.

Like the city of Santa Fe’s minimum wage – long at or near the highest nationally – the county rate will increase annually based on a consumer price index for urban workers in Western states. That means the city and county rates should stay the same in future years as long as neither entity changes its minimum wage law.

Commissioner Robert Anaya on Tuesday proposed splitting Santa Fe County in half for the minimum wage, with an $11 per hour rate in the north half – starting from just north of Cerrillos – and $9 in the south.

He said the division would take into account the difference in costs of living between the Santa Fe area and the southern part of the county, and noted that a $9 an hour rate in the south would be close to Albuquerque’s $8.50 minimum wage.

Anaya’s amendment failed to get a positive vote from any of the other commissioners. But he later joined Stefanics, Chavez and Commissioners Dan Mayfield and Kathy Holian to make the vote for the minimum wage change unanimous.

Some businesses have opposed a county minimum wage but there wasn’t the kind of major controversy that erupted when the Santa Fe City Council moved toward adopting its living wage law in 2003.

Simon Brackley, head of the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday. But he’s previously objected to local minimum wage laws.

“The Chamber believes that Santa Fe businesses should be able to operate under the same wage laws as the rest of New Mexico,” Brackely wrote in a recent opinion piece published in the Journal . “Clearly the national mandated minimum wage has not kept pace with the cost of living. However, the Chamber does not support different mandates in different communities, or ever-increasing mandated wages tied to cost-of-living indexes.

“Mandated wages that rise annually force local businesses to either raise prices, cut hours and benefits, or lay off the most vulnerable workers.” He added, “The sheer number of closed retailers visible along our major thoroughfares is a testament to the difficulty of business success in Santa Fe.” Commission chair Holian, explaining her support for the minimum wage ordinance, referred to research indicating that today’s minimum wage should be as much as $21 an hour to match the value of minimum wages set in the 1950s and 1960s. She said some businesses may leave but that she didn’t think there would be many because of the quality of life in the Santa Fe area.

Under the new ordinance, tipped workers are to get at least $6.40 an hour in base pay, plus tips, but in no case less than the $10.66 an hour required minimum.