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Editorial: Berry budget targets basic needs, capital investment

Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry’s proposed operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 recognizes the reality of the costs associated with Albuquerque Police Department reforms and attempts to play a bit of catch up on the city’s capital projects deficit while taking care of basic needs like street repairs and providing small raises for blue collar workers and others.

It does not propose general tax increases or rate hikes for enterprise funds like Solid Waste.

The $505 million budget – the largest in nine years but just 2.4 percent more than this year’s original budget – sets aside $15 million for new construction projects.

Unfortunate but necessary, it also more than doubles the amount of money to pay for police reforms called for in an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. The allocation in the coming fiscal year would be $4.7 million, up from $2 million this fiscal year.

About $910,000 is proposed to cover annual payments on $15 million in new debt to finance capital projects.

Gradually shifting some of the money that was taken from capital projects to pay for operating expenses during a prior administration back to its original purpose has been a Berry priority.

That is an important direction for the city to take.

Before he took office, the city had a pattern of moving property tax revenue earmarked for the bond program and using it for operating expenses. That has put the city’s capital program – which helps keep the city livable – at about half of what it should be for a city the size of Albuquerque.

If we won’t invest in ourselves, who will?

Blue-collar, clerical, security and transit workers could receive raises of 1 percent, pending union negotiations. Firefighters also stand to receive 1 percent raises this spring if a new contract is negotiated.

Police officers got a 5 percent raise last year, and most would not receive a raise this year, although the city would continue to offer $6,000 to $12,000 bonuses for officers nearing retirement to entice them to stay on. Middle-management staffers would not get raises, but they got 3 percent raises last year.

The mayor’s budget has gone to the City Council for approval. The council may revise it or adopt its own budget to send back to the mayor for his approval or veto.

Councilor Klarissa Peña, who chairs the city’s budget committee, greeted it with some caution.

“I just want to make sure we’re looking out for our employees first,” she said. “They’re who make the city the city.”

Of course city workers are important. But their interests can’t trump all others. It’s the residents, some of whom are city employees, who make the city the city.

So a balance must be struck.

Taking care of infrastructure is important to all city residents, especially as a tool for attracting new businesses and industry and creating jobs.

And there’s only so much money to go around.

Berry’s budget is a sound plan that doesn’t raise taxes and assigns money where it is most needed.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.