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City faces possible $6 million budget shortfall

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Mediocre economic growth in Albuquerque is threatening to blow a $6 million a hole in City Hall’s budget this year.

And the problem could be bigger than that — because last year’s revenue came in a little lower than expected, too.

That dour assessment surfaced Monday as city councilors wrestled with where to find money to boost staffing in the fire department and address an enormous backlog of untested evidence collected from rape victims.

Councilor Ken Sanchez asked whether it’s time to consider “revenue enhancements.” Voters, he noted, were willing in 2015 to raise taxes to fund Albuquerque’s zoo, aquarium and other BioPark attractions.

“By standing back and doing nothing,” Sanchez said, “we’ve got a serious problem.”

No other councilor weighed in on the idea of a tax increase, other than to acknowledge that tough decisions lie ahead.

Gerald Romero, Albuquerque’s budget officer, told the council Monday that revenue from gross receipts taxes isn’t growing as fast as projected. This year’s $526 million operating budget was built on an assumption that revenue would grow by 2.9 percent, but so far, it’s grown at roughly 0.9 percent, he said.

If the trend continues, the city would end up with about $6 million less in revenue, officials said, and the figure could be even higher. A $6 million revenue shortfall would represent a little over 1 percent of the general operating budget.

Gross receipts taxes are levied on the purchase of goods and services, similar to a sales tax.

The slow growth, then, is largely a result of the economy, but tax breaks approved by the state Legislature are also eating into the revenue, city officials said.

There’s no shortage of needs for extra spending.

The council on Monday unanimously agreed to appropriate about $175,000 to staff a rescue unit — an ambulance-like vehicle — at a fire station near Third Street and Interstate 40. That’s enough to operate the unit for the last three months of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Mayor Richard Berry’s administration asked councilors to wait. Rob Perry, the top executive under Berry, said it isn’t responsible to add new costs until there’s a clearer budget picture.

In other action, the council:

■ Heard a report from State Auditor Tim Keller, who estimated it would take about $1.2 million a year over five years to address the backlog of untested sexual assault evidence kits. State and federal funding might be available to help, he said.

■ Voted 7-2 to add City Hall’s inspector general and the City Council staff director to the team that will oversee an independent investigation into allegations that police tampered with officers’ lapel camera videos. Councilors Klarissa Peña and Ken Sanchez voted in dissent.

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